WE ACT supports reduced exposure to indoor pollutants in residences, workplaces and schools. Current or past work includes:
The New York City Lead Outreach Campaign is a multi-level collaborative that seeks to increase public knowledge in New York City on childhood lead poisoning, its prevention, and the remedy of existing threats.
Columbia University Partnerships:
- Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan (CEHNM) as a member of the Center's Community Outreach Education Core. The mission of CEHNM is to understand and prevent the environmental components of diseases.
- Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH), with whom we work as part of the Community Outreach and Translation Core (COTC) to improve the environmental health of children in low-income, urban communities of color.
A 2006 mold report done by the Public Advocate of New York in collaboration with WE ACT.
Compared to most other New Yorkers, Northern Manhattan residents suffer disproportionately from the impacts of environmental pollution. To help alleviate this disparity, WE ACT has partnered with the Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan (CEHNM) as a member of the Center's Community Outreach Education Core. The mission of CEHNM is to understand and prevent the environmental components of diseases. The Center members concentrate their efforts on three disease categories: neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); respiratory diseases, including asthma and emphysema; and environmentally related cancer. Members of the Community Outreach Education Core are tasked with disseminating the Center's findings to community residents. WE ACT takes the work a step further by using Center findings to galvanize residents into advocacy work designed to improve public policy around environmental health.
Ongoing work includes basic laboratory studies of disease mechanisms and epidemiologic studies of exposed populations. WE ACT and CEHNM are seeking to understand the effects of both environmental exposures and genetic susceptibility.
Northern Manhattan has some of the highest childhood asthma hospitalization rates in the nation. Incidences of obesity, low birth weight, and other respiratory illnesses among children are also disproportionately high in this community. WE ACT has a long-standing partnership with the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health(CCCEH), with whom we work as part of the Community Outreach and Translation Core (COTC) to improve the environmental health of children in low-income, urban communities of color. The COTC communicates the Center’s research results to local residents, community organizations, health care providers, public interest groups, and policymakers so they can take action to protect children from the threats of air pollutants and other endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Pizza. Mozzarella sticks. Hamburgers. French fries. Fish sticks.
This isn’t a fast food menu. These are all items that are on a New York City public school lunch menu. Why are school meals like fast food combos meals that occasionally meet nutrition standards? Why do some schools have better food options than others? Why doesn’t school food ever have enough funding?
It has been the policy of the United States to stigmatize poor students of color by serving them the cheapest, most ultra-processed, poorly tasting food in public schools. The combination of lack of funding to even allow school food authorities to cover all their costs, separating students into different categories to determine their eligibility for a school meal, and dumping unhealthy ultra-processed foods onto student lunch trays amounts to structural racism in the school food system. Indeed, when Congress first introduced the bill 1963, the southern conservative chairs of the senate and house agricultural appropriations committees worked to prevent “farm money” from funding largely urban black student populations.
What do we mean by structural racism? We adopt the Center for Social Inclusion’s definition as the accumulation of practices and policies that collectively deny people of color adequate resources and equal opportunities to thrive . With 80% of New York City’s student population being Black and Latino, and 75% percent of students eligible for free or reduced school meals, there is no doubt that the quality, nutrition, and safety of school meals impacts low-income students of color more than whites in New York City.
Just as there are government policies to dump polluting facilities on communities of color and low-income, so too there are policies that flood these communities with ultra-processed foods. And just as polluting facilities contribute to asthma, so too do unhealthy school foods contribute to childhood obesity. You don’t need a trained policy eye to read between the lines of law to see this. All you need to do is look at a school lunch in Harlem.
The goal of WE ACT’s Food Justice Initiative is for Northern Manhattan schools to have access to good food. WE ACT defines "good food" as safe, fresh, and nutritious school meals that are prepared in schools in a quality environment, that kids eat and parents support, to contribute to the reduction of childhood obesity.
WE ACT works towards this goal by organizing parents through our Food Justice Training. Our Food Justice Training consists of three workshops and aims to build a vision of what parents want for school food, educating them about the school food system, and conducting a power analysis of the school food system to understand what power we need to leverage to achieve their vision.
WE ACT currently conducts workshops at MS 328 and MS 326 in Washington Heights, Central Park East II and PS 171 in East Harlem, and PS 161 in West Harlem. In 2011, we organized 6 parents from our trainings to attend and deliver testimony at the New York City Council hearing on New York City Department of Education’s food procurement and policies.
WE ACT conducts and coordinates research to inform our food justice trainings, organizing, advocacy and policy. We are currently conducting research on the corporate supply chain of school foods and their ingredients. Through this research, we seek to understand where New York City school food comes from, where it is manufactured, who manufacturers it, who owns the system, and what’s in it. One of the results of this research thus far has been an uncovering of the ingredients of the foods purchased by the New York City Department of Education.
WE ACT has advocated for bringing supermarkets back to Harlem, increasing federal funding for school food programs, procuring transparency and accountability within the New York City Office of SchoolFood about the ingredients in their products, and more. Most recently, WE ACT has advocated in support of New York City Council Intro 452-2011, which would encourage New York City agencies to purchase New York State grown food.
WE ACT is calling for the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education to use geographic preference as a specification in their requests for bids to and contracts with food service manufacturers and distributors.Article 52-A 2590 of New York State Education law gives the Chancellor the authority to develop a procurement policy for the city school district of the city of New York and the districts and public schools therein.” Such policy must include: “(a) standards for quality, function and utility of all material goods, supplies and services purchased by the chancellor, superintendents, or schools” and “(b) regulations for the purchase of material goods, supplies and services by the chancellor, the superintendents, and the schools, including clearly articulated procedures which require a clear statement of product specifications.” Federal and state law allows school food authorities to use geographic preference in their food contracts, and according to recent USDA procurement policy memo, product specifications can be as detailed as the school food authority requiring that an apple must have been picked within one day of delivery, or must have been harvested within a certain time period.
Food Justice Resources
Crain's New York Business Article: NYC Schools Get Applesauce from China
Manhattan Times Green Times Article: 10 Ways to Improve New York City's Food System
East and Central Harlem District Public Health Office Eating Well in Harlem: How Available is Healthy Food
NYC Department of Planning: Going to Market: New York City's Neighborhod Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage
Mount Sinai Hospital: Race and the Food Store Availability in an Inner-City Neighbourhood
Journal of Preventing Chronic Disease: The Role of Race and Poverty in Access to Foods that Enable Individuals to Adhere to Dietary Guidelines
NYC Department of Health: Childhood Obesity in New York City Elementary Students
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:Improving Child Nutrition Policy: Insights from National USDA Study of School Food Environments
New York City Block Access to Nutrition Data
Iowa Senator Calls for Higher Nutrition Standards in School Lunches
Ohio Lawmakers Introduce Junk Food Ban
North Carolina School Posts Calorie Information on Digital Cafeteria Menu Boards
Healthier Lunches Modestly Reduce South Carolina Childhood Obesity Rate
The Our Housing is Our Health (OHOH) Campaign is a training and organizing initiative expanding the capacity of low-income communities of color in Northern Manhattan, and throughout New York City, to improve children’s environmental health. WE ACT’s OHOH Campaign has 3 primary goals:
To organize individuals and organizations around the health effects of harmful indoor exposures to exposures to susceptible groups such as children and those with respiratory problems, and train them on methods to minimize these exposures;
To identify and pursue a needed change in housing policy or practice; and
To develop a citywide network of housing and health organizations that will share information and resources related to housing and children’s health and will mobilize their constituencies for policy change.
Since 2004, the OHOH Campaign has carried out numerous trainings and set up strong partnerships with Northern Manhattan parents, concerned community members and community-based organizations throughout NYC to address housing health issues to improve children’s health. In 2006, addressing a specific environmental exposure identified by the community, WE ACT tackled the problem of mold in New York City’s low-income housing through the implementation of the “Mold is Taking Hold” initiative of the OHOH Campaign. In December 2006, in collaboration with WE ACT, the Office of the New York City Public Advocate issued the report Unhealthy Exposure: Mold in New York City Homes (PDF). The study confirmed that reports of mold contamination – a severe asthma trigger – have been rising in New York City for the past five years and made concrete suggestions for addressing the growing problem, especially important in communities like Central Harlem where 1 in 4 children suffers from asthma (a rate far above the national average). Most recently, through collaborative advocacy, the OHOH Campaign succeeded in improving New York City policy on toxic mold, better protecting
As the Mayor and City agencies develop plans to build and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2013 to address New York City’s affordable housing crisis, it is crucial that these plans focus not only on availability of affordable housing but on ensuring healthy living conditions for low-income residents and their children. With a strong network of allies and scientific evidence provided through our partnership with the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH), WE ACT is in a key position to address housing quality and its impact on children’s health.
Read about The Northern Manhattan Garbage, Pests & Pesticides Campaign, an initiative born of the OHOH Campaign.
Mold is Taking Hold:
Mold Fact Sheet (PDF)
Mold - Health Effects (PDF)
Mold - Legal Rights (PDF)
An outgrowth of the Our Housing is Our Health Campaign, WE ACT’s Northern Manhattan Garbage, Pests and Pesticides Campaign is using collaborative problem solving techniques to address the problems of inappropriate garbage disposal and rampant rodent and roach infestation in Northern Manhattan, and working to bring about a transition from current pesticide use to safer alternatives in order to reduce negative health impacts from pests and pesticide application in this community. The campaign has 3 specific goals:
To build a collaborative of Northern Manhattan residents and stakeholders who will both determine and ultimately implement the work that is to be done.
To collaboratively identify and more fully define the specific problems related to garbage disposal, pests, rodents and pesticide use in Northern Manhattan.
To empower the Northern Manhattan community through education, training, and outreach to both work towards the full identification of the problems related to garbage and pesticides in this community, and act as key players in the implementation of solutions.
WE ACT’s approach to meeting these goals is guided by our “people’s first” philosophy: those that are most impacted by a particular problem are in the best position to develop solutions and take a front-line stance on implementing identified strategies. We are working collaboratively with residents to create a participatory process that involves and engages residents from problem solving to implementation. Residents play an important role in identifying other community leaders, who then become part of the movement, focused on educating and holding key decision-makers responsible for making change possible.
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WE, THE PEOPLE OF COLOR, gathered together at this multinational People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit to begin to build a national and international movement of all peoples of color to fight the destruction and taking of our lands and communities, do hereby re-establish our spiritual interdependence to the sacredness of our Mother Earth; to respect and celebrate each of our cultures, languages and beliefs about the natural world and our roles in healing ourselves; to insure environmental justice; to promote economic alternatives which would contribute to the development of environmentally sage livelihoods; and, to secure our political, economic and cultural liberation that has been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression, resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples, do affirm and adopt these Principles of Environmental Justice:
Environmental justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction.
Environmental justice demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.
Environmental justice mandates the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.
Environmental justice calls for universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water, and food.
Environmental justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural, and environmental self-determination of all peoples.
Environmental justice demands the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes, and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers be held strictly accountable to the people for detoxification and containment at the point of production.
Environmental justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision making including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.
Environmental justice affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment, without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment. It also affirms the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards.
Environmental justice protects the right of all victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.
Environmental justice considers governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration On Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.
Environmental justice must recognize a special legal and natural relationship of Native Peoples to the U.S. government through treaties, agreements, compacts, and covenants affirming sovereignty and self-determination.
Environmental justice affirms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of all of our communities, and providing fair access for all to the full range of resources.
Environmental justice calls for the strict enforcement of principles of informed consent, and a halt to the testing of experimental reproductive and medical procedures and vaccinations on people of color.
Environmental justice opposes the destructive operations of multinational corporations.
Environmental justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.
Environmental justice calls for the education of present and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental issues, based on our experience and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives.
Environmental justice requires that we, as individuals, make personal and consumer choices to consume as little of Mother Earth's resources and to produce as little waste as possible; and make the conscious decision to challenge and re-prioritize our lifestyles to insure the health of the natural world for present and future generations.