ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The air we breathe in doesn’t discriminate. That’s something most people can agree on. But what happens when the air quality in a predominately Black neighborhood is causing serious concerns? In St. Petersburg’s Childs Park neighborhood, the terms “environmental racism” and “environmental justice” are now being discussed after years of odor complaints.
What You Need To Know
- In St. Petersburg’s Childs Park neighborhood, the terms “environmental racism” and “environmental justice” are now being discussed after years of odor complaints
- For Childs Park resident Deidre Williams, air quality is a big concern. She said she has an autoimmune disease impacting her lungs
- The ongoing concerns in this predominately Black community got the attention of Gwendolyn Reece with the Black Health Equity Alliance
- BELOW: View documents that pertain to this part of our 3-part series
According to one environmental expert, the potentially harmful odors in Childs Park should get the attention of people no matter where they live, because air quality is something that affects everyone.
For Childs Park resident Deidre Williams, air quality is a big concern. She said she has an autoimmune disease impacting her lungs. That disease paired with concerns about questionable odors outside her Childs Park home has kept her from doing a lot with her grandchildren.
“We got a huge pool in the shed that we used to pull out and they would play outside and have fun. We don’t even do that anymore,” she said. “So, it hurts me not to be able to take my grandbaby outside to ride her scooter.”
Williams said sitting on the front porch of the home she grew up in was supposed to be her retirement dream.
“We just completely stopped coming outside,” she said. “And it’s not fair because we live here and we should be able to come out and enjoy sitting out on the porch and not have to smell something that’s so strong that you’re, like, clearing your throat.”
Now, she’s wondering if the strong odor is contributing to her health problems and the health of everyone else around her.
And she’s even more worried because her Childs Park home is located near an industrial complex.
“It could be potentially hazardous to the people that live in this area, work in this area, come through this area. It could potentially harm hundreds of people,” she said.
According to a recent resiliency study conducted by the city of St. Petersburg, worries about the industrial corridor in the middle of the neighborhood are documented as far back as 1995. The document details how residents wanted buffers added around the businesses.
The city’s strategic plan from 2007 paints a similar picture. It reads in part, “The industrial uses are adjacent to single-family residential units and lack adequate buffering, resulting in incompatible land use development patterns. These industrial uses are a health and safety hazard to the neighborhood leading to a deterioration of visual character and a significant decline in property values. The Howco Environmental Oil Recovery Facility, located on 8th Avenue South, is one such example identified by the community during the workshops as a detrimental use situated in the midst of residential home.”
The ongoing concerns in this predominately Black community got the attention of Gwendolyn Reece with the Black Health Equity Alliance.
“Our organization based on the political causes of the social determinants of health and they are, and this will come as no surprise to you, structural racism,” she said.
She pointed to several scientific studies that examine health disparities and pollution.
A study highlighted on science.org details how high levels of ambient fine particulate air pollution disproportionately impact communities of color. That means places like industrial facilities, power plants or cars and trucks if you live close to busy highways.
Reece said the Black Health Equity Alliance offered to conduct a health survey in Childs Park.
“It would be maybe initially a casual landscape analysis just asking people to try to determine if there’s a prevalence of asthma or if there’s a prevalence of any particular forms of cancer,” she said.
It’s an issue Reece said shouldn’t be ignored.
“It’s not a Childs Park problem, it’s a people problem. It’s a city of St. Petersburg problem. It’s a national problem. And we have to stop saying that’s them over there. There’s no them and us, there’s only a we,” she said.
For Williams, it’s that sense of community and a call to action that’s going to be needed to demand answers about the odor.
“At some point that they get to the bottom of how No. 1, it’s directly affecting the population that’s over here. And No. 2, that they put a cap on it,” she said.
So, who’s responsible for monitoring air quality in Childs Park and what can communities like Childs Park do about their concerns? Is there a solution? We took those questions to the government agency in charge to find out what can be done, and when.