Environmental conditions

San Francisco, CA
United States

Trained residents to track environmental pollution and contamination sites while building advocacy capacity to push for environmental justice.

Environmental racism in the San Francisco Bay Area has disproportionately harmed residents of color for decades. In all of San Francisco, the Bayview Hunters Point community has the highest mortality rates, the lowest life expectancies, and above-average rates of ER visits, hospitalizations, cancer, and asthma. These are the measurable impacts of decades of industrial operations in the neighborhood, including a Superfund site (an area polluted with hazardous materials), a wastewater treatment plant that treats and processes 80 percent of San Francisco’s sewage, and trash and recycling facilities that service the entire city. Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates organized an advocacy platform to give this community the tools to combat this environmental racism.  

Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates is led by residents of the community who are environmental activists and advocates. Staff developed a “Community Toxic Index Program” that trained residents to assess over 300 locations in the neighborhood. Working in teams, volunteers recorded their observations about these neighborhood sites, including physical or sensory evidence (e.g., smell) of toxins at each site. Volunteers also conducted oral history interviews with neighbors who live near the sites. Approximately half of the sites were documented through this project, and 12 oral history interviews were completed. The new data collected is building a better understanding of environmental hazards in the neighborhood and at sites that in many cases have not been assessed in more than 15 years. Oral histories revealed the long-standing nature of environmental racism in the community, with some interviews documenting three generations in a family with the same health problems, such as asthma or cancer. The data and stories that residents are collecting and documenting will be used to develop a campaign to advocate to government agencies and elected officials for the remediation of toxic sites.

Another key outcome of this project is the recruitment of a cohort of over 50 volunteer community scientists who learned how to collect data about their community. Many of these volunteers are also engaging in new ways through Bayview Hunters Community Advocates committees and initiatives. The capacity built through this project will serve the Bayview Hunters Point community for years to come, as these volunteers continue to collect data and use it to push for environmental justice.