Environmental Activists Find Common Ground With Polluters While Breaking Bread in Louisville

toxic company rubbertown louisville
While the city of Louisville has been known for many things over the years, citizens of an area consisting of various chemical plants and commonly referred to as Rubbertown have put up with strange odors, burning eyes and fears that their every breath might contribute to asthma, cancer or other illnesses.

But that began to change about a decade ago, after a minister from the predominantly African-American neighborhoods around Rubbertown organized protests, demanding aggressive government action to clean up the toxic air and reduce the chemical emissions from factories.
The campaign soon ranged beyond those neighborhoods, attracting the help of university scientists, industry representatives and government officials. And it has led to an ambitious and successful anti-pollution effort that has ultimately garnered some well-deserved national attention.

Consider the fact that in 2000 and 2001, extensive air monitoring at three public schools and nine other sites in the area confirmed what many in Louisville had suspected: High levels of chemicals were putting residents, young and old, at an unacceptable risk of cancer and other illnesses, especially in the neighborhoods closest to Rubbertown, on the city's west side.

Louisville's Strategic Toxic Air Reduction (STAR) program, launched in 2005 after years of squabbling and negotiations, has dramatically cut emissions of the city's most risky chemical and promises to curb others by the end of 2011. Since 2005, concentrations in the air of the biggest chemical culprit found by the monitoring, the human carcinogen 1,3-butadiene, have fallen more than 75%. "That's a huge reduction," says Russell Barnett, director of research for the University of Louisville's Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development.

Essentially, Louisville's efforts have become a national model. “Ounce per ounce, the Louisville program packs a greater punch than almost any other community's program," says S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, whose members include pollution-control officials across the country.

And the secret to local activists success? Insisting that meetings between local citizens, government regulatory officials and polluters be held over supper. As one leading activist put it, “It may sound trivial… (But) It's difficult to break bread together and fight a lot. We were all in this together, even though we had different points of view.

Who knows, perhaps there’s room for a meal and the attendant cooperation that goes with it in a situation you’re encountering locally?

Via: USA Today

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