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Partnerships for Change
NRDC has worked with many community-based organizations to defend people's right to a safe and healthy environment.

from Katrina
Fighting for Green Space Cleaning Up Anacostia
Shielding Children from Pesticide Exposure Improving
Air Quality
in an Urban Neighborhood
Working for Justice in West Harlem Forcing Nuclear Waste Clean-up

Working for Justice in West Harlem
New York, 1994 - present day

Photo of advocates from West Harlem Environmental Action
Advocates from the community group West Harlem Environmental Action, at a New York City event.

The Challenge: New York City's West Harlem community, like many other low-income communities of color around the nation, has faced health risks and other environmental injustices that wealthy neighborhoods rarely encounter -- odors from a poorly managed sewage treatment plant, increased air pollution from a proposed bus depot, and exposure to toxic chemicals from the pesticides used in public housing. The community found a rallying point in the poorly managed North River Sewage Treatment Plant, which had been spewing foul odors and causing respiratory problems for local residents since opening in 1986. West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT) formed in 1988 as an all-volunteer group to address the problems caused by the sewage plant and proposed bus depot.

Working Together: Despite years of talks, public demonstrations and scientific documentation of the problems caused by the plant, the city remained unresponsive to the needs of West Harlem residents. "Basically, the city was giving them the run-around," says NRDC senior attorney Eric Goldstein. Goldstein and NRDC joined WE ACT in a lawsuit against the city in 1992. The case ended in a $1.1 million settlement, and gave the community legal leverage to force improvements to the plant. The settlement money was put into a trust fund to address the community's environmental and health problems. WE ACT hired its first three permanent staff members with a grant from the fund and is now a leading environmental justice organization in the region. Goldstein was invited to join the WE ACT board and the two groups continue to collaborate on environmental justice issues.

Today: In recent years, NRDC and WE ACT have been working together to reduce children's exposure to harmful pesticides in public housing. In October 2003, NRDC partnered with several groups, including WE ACT and the Children's Environmental Health Network, and petitioned the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to avoid toxic pesticides and implement integrated pest management in its 1.3 million public housing units. And in August of 2005, thanks to another WE ACT/NRDC lawsuit, a federal judge found that the Environmental Protection Agency had failed to protect children from exposure to rat poisons, and directed the agency to require chemical manufacturers to strengthen safeguards with the use of protective measures such as a bittering agent. "This court victory marks an important step towards protecting children in communities of color," said Peggy Shepard, founder and executive director of WE ACT. "The basic safety measure required by the court today will protect children from poisoning while still allowing communities to control rats."

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