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February 2, 2011

The West Side: The Real Story

Many of you may have seen the front-page article published recently in the Salt Lake Tribune, “The west side: Where an ill wind blows,” about the environmental health injustice that exists on the west of Salt Lake City. If you made it through the three-page spread, you may have been left feeling distressed and dissatisfied, as we were here at USEE, with the way the article stereotypes an entire community and neglects to highlight any efforts to bring about environmental justice.

The article addresses everything from hazardous waste sites, to air pollution, to eating habits, to household sanitation, and everything in between. It discusses crime and the homeless population, industrial plants and freeways, trains and truck traffic, obesity and asthma, levels of diversity and education. Overall, it makes the west side sound like an undesirable place to live with no hope of improvement.

The article doesn’t talk about the benefits of a culturally diverse community. It does not mention the numerous school and community gardens that are bringing fresh produce and education to the west side. It does not disclose the many organizations that are striving to improve the quality of life, education, and health of the community on the west side, such as Neighborworks, the Wasatch Community Gardens, the Peoples Market, University Neighborhood Partners, The Day Riverside Library, Envision Utah, Tree Utah, and many more.

Noticeably absent from the article is mention of the West/Central Salt Lake City Children’s Environmental Health & Environmental Justice (CHE/EJ) Initiative. This project includes numerous partner organizations, such as the Department of Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency, Salt Lake Valley Health Department, Salt Lake County, and the Salt Lake City Office of Sustainability. Community partners who have been participating include the Utah Society for Environmental Education, Envision Utah, University Neighborhood Partners, Breathe Utah, Neighborworks, and the Rose Park and Fairpark Neighborhood Councils and the Utah Multicultural Health Network. In addition to the CHE/EJ, the Utah Society for Environmental Education is currently facilitating a West Side Salt Lake City Environmental Justice project gathering the environmental concerns of Rose Park Residents through a grant from the US EPA Environmental Justice Department.

These partners have been collaboratively working together, focusing on reducing environmental risks to children's health in the Glendale, Jordan Meadows, Poplar Grove, Rose Park, State Fairpark, Westpointe, Downtown, Capitol Hill, and Ballpark communities. For more information about the CHE project, visit http://www.deq.utah.gov/Issues/childrenshealth/index.htm.

While the article in the Tribune did present valuable information about the many environmental hazards and injustices on the west side, it failed to present both sides of the story, leaving us as readers feeling hopeless and helpless. But hope is not lost, there are many people working hard to bring justice to the west side, and improve environmental health for those who live there.

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