Environmental justice refers to disproportionate environmental burdens borne along racial, ethnic and economic lines. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines Environmental Justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”
The Mystic River Watershed is home to about 8% of the Commonwealth's population - 500,000 people - yet covers less than 1% of the land, making the Watershed one of the most densely populated and urban watersheds in the state.
Eight out of the fifteen Massachusetts communities considered "most intensely overburdened" by cumulative environmental hazards lie within the Mystic River Watershed, according to Environmental Justice research. (Faber, 2005) Environmental hazards within the watershed include hazardous waste sites, transfer stations, landfills, incinerators, polluting industrial facilities, and power plants. The watershed is further impacted by impervious surface (such as parking lots and buildings), limited green space and limited access to the waterfront. Additionally, within the Mystic River Watershed, 2005 average income levels varied from $156,440 (Winchester) to $34,086 (Chelsea). (IRS)
The Mystic River Watershed Association works with environmental justice communities to provide education about water quality issues that may affect them, as well as advocate for responsible development in these communities.
MyRWA's Lower Mystic Initiative works in East Boston and Chelsea, both of which are environmental justice communities.
Check out the EPA's interactive environmental justice map: EJView.
Partnering organizations that address environmental justice issues within the Mystic River Watershed include:
- Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), East Boston
- Chelsea Collaborative, Chelsea
- La Comunidad, Inc., Everett
- Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), East Boston
- Conservation Law Foundation (CLF)
- Tri-City Community Action Program (Tri-CAP)
- Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA)
For more information and to view a ranking of all Massachusetts towns in terms of environmental justice see: Daniel Faber and Eric Krieg, Unequal Exposure to Ecological Hazards 2005: Environmental Injustices in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (October 12, 2005).
The Northeastern Environmental Justice Research Collaborative provides more information as well.