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What Environmental Justice Means to Me

Environmental justice is defined by the hard work done by resident leaders to correct the inequality that exists in communities like mine.

Growing up in a low-income community in Fresno, I saw that one of the likely causes of my sibling’s asthma was the train that regularly passed through the middle of the street where we lived. I now realize that like me, most of the kids playing outside or even sitting down in front of their apartment, drinking lemonade on a hot summer, did not know that they lived in a “Red Zone.”

What do I mean by “Red Zone”? According to CalEnviroScreen there is a larger amount of pollutants in Southeast and Southwest Fresno than in North Fresno. CalEnviroScreen is a mapping tool that determines the areas in the State that are most impacted by economic and environmental challenges – like poor air quality.

This map illustrates the relative level of vulnerability of each community based on several factors including air quality, drinking water quality, and educational level of residents.  The greener the map is in a neighborhood, the less vulnerable, the darker red the map is in a neighborhood, the more vulnerable.  If you have never lived in a disadvantaged community that is colored red on this map, just imagine going outside to enjoy your evening and feeling short of breath or seeing industrial facilities just across the street from where you live emitting large amounts of contaminants.

I believe that your skin color or race or income should not determine how healthy your air or water is. But, unfortunately, they do. We all need to work to change that reality.

We work with hundreds of residents that live in disadvantaged communities.  Most are people of color and most are low income.  Every day of their lives they do their best to advocate and influence their representatives to help improve their communities.  All the negative impacts occurring in disadvantaged communities encourage residents to testify and ask for action to be taken for the benefit of their community.  This to me is environmental justice.


Sandra Vasquez

Program Assistant

Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability

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