Detroiter honored by White House speaks out on environmental justice

Kimberly Hill Knott, senior policy manager at Detroiters Working For Environmental Justice (DWEJ) and project director for the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative, said the three most pressing environmental justice issues for Detroiters are air quality, cumulative impact and climate change.

A recent report stated that five of the state’s most toxic zip codes are located in the city of Detroit.

“So that’s a major issue and the reason it’s a major issue is because of its impact on health,” she said.

Knott said any time five of the most polluted zip codes are in one city, it will have great bearing on air quality. That, in turn, will have an impact on public health.

“So when you look at issues like asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and even cancer, you’ll see that many of those conditions have been exacerbated by the constant exposure to these polluting facilities,” she said.

Asked what the average person could do to address these issues, Knott said people can reduce the risk within their own homes.

People who smoke should stop, especially if they or their children have asthma or other respiratory ailments.

“Really, the ultimate goal there is to stop and get the treatment, and go through the treatment that’s necessary to do that,” she said.

She also said if there’s lead paint or mold or asbestos, then people would have to work with and identify agencies that can remediate those particular issues. Many non-profits can do that.

If this is done properly, people could see a significant improvement in their household as it pertains to health.

“Now, when you have pollution, some of the issues have to be remedied at a higher level,” she said. “In other words, it obviously has to be the company. Or the source of pollution must be dealt with. But also there are legislative factors or elected officials that play a key role in addressing those issues. So you have an issue of promoting responsible businesses that readily embrace sustainability practices that would focus on effective pollution control measures.”

Knott noted that the DWEJ believes environmental justice must be addressed at multiple levels — the community, residential, corporate and legislative levels.

“When this particular method is used to reduce pollution, inevitably, we will be able to create an effective system that works for everybody,” she said, adding that a cleaner and greener business operates more efficiently.

“Which means there’s a cost benefit,” she said, also pointing out that it reduces the challenge on the community, because now people are healthier.

“Many of the people who are being plagued by these conditions the people in the poorest communities,” she said.

“And as a result, they do not have the necessary resources to perhaps get the necessary treatment that is required.”

These people may not have health insurance and end up going to the emergency room to handle a situation that may be appropriately addressed in a long-term fashion if they had a doctor to visit on a regular basis.

She noted that there’s legislation that looks at is how much pollution is one particular area, and added that it’s critically important because when you have a community that has been historically overburdened with these noxious facilities, you’re going to have more environmental challenges.

There has to be a measure in place that says a particular community has been overburdened for too long.

“So we need to look at whether to place this particular facility in another community or just not allow for an expansion at this time.”

She said the legislation would address this issue.

On April 11, Kimbrerly Hill Knott was honored by the White House Champions of Change program as a Community Resilience Leader. She represented Detroit as one of 12 champions of change.

This came about as an indirect result of a 2011 meeting between Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and key stakeholders to determine the feasibility of launching a climate action plan for the city.

After much discussion, they formed the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative.

The DWEJ has partnered with the U of M school of natural resources to conduct the greenhouse gas inventory.

Knott said the DWEJ has a dynamic team of people putting together seven work groups:

• Homes and neighborhoods

• Parks, public space, and water infrastructure.

• Public health

• Transportation

• Solid waste

• business institution,

• Energy.

She a big part of the climate action plan will be focusing on mitigation, which looks at the causes, and adaptation, which looks at how to reduce the risk.

That’s important because projections show heat and flooding are two of the major issues that are caused by climate change.

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