A view of Xcel Energy’s retired fossil fuel-fired Zuni Generating Station at Zuni Street and West 13th Avenue in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Denver on Aug. 13, 2022. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
We Coloradans love the great outdoors, it’s not just a stereotype.
Our mountain vistas, hiking trails, and national and state parks are core to who we are as Coloradans and momentous to the millions of people who travel here to experience them for themselves.
But the grim reality is that not all Colorado communities, like thousands across our country, share the same access to safe and unpolluted outdoor spaces. Sending your kid to the park to play, a seemingly smart alternative to screen time, can mean an urgent care visit for families who live in communities where historical racism and underdevelopment have caused disproportionate negative health impacts.
As a nurse, I’ve witnessed firsthand the immense physical and emotional toll that this takes on people and on our limited public health resources.
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Practices such as redlining have divided cities in the U.S., where industries continue to release toxic gasses disproportionately in areas inhabited by mainly low-income individuals and communities of color. The research is clear — the air you breathe determines how healthy you are. Yet, so many kids, families, and seniors don’t have a choice. This leads to stifled academic performance, missed work and income, and preventable health scares. Their health outcomes are poor simply based on where they live. Support from the federal government will ensure they can continue to take care of themselves and their families.
I earned my family nurse practitioner master’s degree and completed clinical rotations in many of the Denver metro’s most vulnerable communities. As if being underserved wasn’t enough, they are also bearing the brunt of industrial pollution and rising heat.
One such community I often treated patients in is the Sun Valley neighborhood. This is a vibrant community whose borders were created by major interstates and thoroughfares. It’s one of the neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by pollution and extreme heat, causing more clinic visits related to respiratory and cardiovascular events like asthma attacks and heat strokes.
Many of Colorado’s neighborhoods, like many urban centers across the U.S., are overdue for environmental cleanups, increased green infrastructure, and improved access to adequate outdoor recreation areas.
Environmental racism has led to the neglect of Sun Valley, as evidenced in the fact that the community has only 3% tree cover in a neighborhood that is 88% people of color. In predominantly white neighborhoods, tree cover is far greater. I am encouraged that federal funding is being awarded to this neighborhood, and many like it, with the aim to equitably redevelop the community to improve health outcomes and give people access to green spaces that won’t cause them a trip to the doctor’s office or hospital.
Many of Colorado’s neighborhoods, like many urban centers across the U.S., are overdue for environmental cleanups, increased green infrastructure, and improved access to adequate outdoor recreation areas. Fortunately, federal funding in the form of brownfield grants are now being awarded to communities throughout America, delivering much-needed investment in cleanups and equitable revitalizations to hardworking, family-oriented neighborhoods.
Brownfields are property areas that are contaminated with pollutants or hazardous substances that are harmful to human health and thus make the clean-up or redevelopment more expensive and difficult. Because these toxic areas often disproportionately impact disadvantaged communities, 84% of the federal funding was awarded to historically underserved communities, part of President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative.
I’m thrilled for the health and economic benefits for Colorado. These are pivotal Brownfield Grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the bipartisan infrastructure law, a package of federal funding passed by the government in 2022 aimed at providing long-term investments in sustainable infrastructure.
Money from the legislation will transform the Sun Valley neighborhood historically occupied by a scrap metal warehouse, landfill, coal-fired power plant, above-ground storage tanks, and detention ponds, which has led to soil contamination, including heavy metals, asbestos, lead, and other health-harming contaminants. The grant will fund new energy-efficient affordable housing and a riverfront park, which will provide vital access to clean, safe green space.
When we remove areas of toxic contamination in our communities and replace them with safe green spaces, affordable housing, and opportunities for local businesses, we are making our neighborhoods safer, healthier, and more equitable places to live. This is the type of investment that builds a better America while also making us healthier. The people from these neighborhoods are resilient. They want nothing more than for their kids to get a quality education, have the means to put food on the table, lead healthy lives, and be active members of a thriving community. This is well-allocated funding that will help make this a reality. I know that the residents in the seven Colorado communities that received grants will be better off for it.
Let’s celebrate this progress for environmental justice and health but keep pushing for more funding and action in the communities that need it the most.
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