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Toxic Tours
Raising awareness about environmental justice communities

Hearing or reading about the environmental and social burdens of a community often cannot express the true needs of an area. One approach to enhancing community understanding of an area’s burdens and resources is through conducting a toxic tour. Typically led by community members and their advocates, a toxic tour guides researchers, students, decision makers, and other key stakeholders through a geographic area to exhibit examples of the toxic sources within their neighborhoods, current advocacy and intervention efforts, as well as more general background information about the community.

Toxic tours highlight the impact of primary point polluters, toxic waste sites, and other contaminated areas on the surrounding residents. The CEHD is expanding this process to include discussion along the tour of the social and health burdens also experienced within these communities to demonstrate a more comprehensive understanding of the cumulative risk of the community.

The CEHD co-sponsored, with the NIEHS COEC and t.e.j.a.s., two toxic tours over the last year. Several students from UTMB’s four health professionals schools participated in the tours.

Tour #1: Houston Ship Channel

In November of 2009, the Toxic Tour focused on the Houston Ship Channel area, specifically Houston’s industrial fence-line communities in the Manchester/Harrisburg area. The touring group included medical and public health researchers, medical and health care students from UTMB and other nearby schools, and other community stakeholders. The Manchester community lies along the Houston Ship Channel, surrounded by industry, and is known for having high levels of toxins in the air. Furthermore, this community lies in a county with an increased burden of total environmental releases, cancer risk score, and air releases of carcinogens.

Tour #2: Galveston

The second tour was held in April 2010 and focused on the East End of Galveston Island, and was held in conjunction with the Encuentro. This tour aimed to include a specific focus on Ike damaged areas, and the impact on community health of the multiple burdens of toxins along with the health risks created by Hurricane Ike and its aftermath. The tour included stops along the Galveston Port, the testing sites used in the Sediment Testing initiative, as well as specific landmarks known to be contaminated with legacy heavy metals, either naturally occurring or byproducts of industry. Several neighborhoods were toured to show the diversity in the impacts of Ike’s storm surge and differences in levels of recovery eighteen months after the event.

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