Authors: Natasha Soto, GFA Fellow, Class 5
This is the story of how we fought to make the air in our community cleaner - and won.
My name is Natasha Soto. I am a community organizer at the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. We are an organization that advocates environmental justice and the rights of residents who live in communities where their health is at risk due to pollution.
I know what you’re thinking: there’s pollution everywhere! True - but the neighborhoods we work in are disproportionately affected by pollution. I work on the West Side of Buffalo, New York. It's a neighborhood rich in diversity and history - where almost half of households have an income of $20,000 or less, and almost half of households have asthma. It is a community shared by the third largest international land port in the United States, the Peace Bridge. About twenty thousand passenger vehicles and five thousand trucks cross the Peace Bridge – every day! The work that I do is in an environmental justice neighborhood because even though the Peace Bridge is one of three bridges that connect the United States and Canada in this area, 90% of this international traffic goes through this neighborhood.
We presented a resolution to Buffalo’s Councilmembers asking them to push for air monitoring in the area, electrified parking Spaces, green buffers, and - most importantly - a meaningful opportunity for the public to participate in all plans the Peace Bridge Authority (PBA) releases regarding the plaza or the bridge. It’s a big deal! The PBA has been talking about a new bridge and a larger plaza for about 22 years, but their plans have always been thwarted for some reason or another. This time it’s because there is no federal money for a project of this size. Amazingly, for all these years and the setbacks the PBA has had, not one of them has been for the air quality issues on the West Side. The public en masse is unaware that the health of people living near the bridge is jeopardized by the movement of goods from point A to B.
I was hoping that health, environmental justice and air quality issues will be a focus in the talks around this shiny new international bridge crossing; I was extremely nervous that it wouldn’t be. But the resolution passed! I worked with various dedicated community groups and citizens on this resolution, including Erin Heaney, Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition; Erin Robinson, Professor at Canisius College who led our Photovoice initiative; Community Health Workers- a network of individuals that work with residents; Daytuan Antonetti of the Belle Center- a community center, and local residents. This is a victory for the people of the West Side of Buffalo some who have asthma, know someone with asthma, or are tired of trucks coming into their neighborhood.