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Language of Environmental Justice

Dana Finkelstein honed her fluency in Spanish during visits to Costa Rica and other Central American countries, but last semester she began putting her familiarity with the language to use on a new challenge.

Working primarily with the community group Holyoke Organized to Protect the Environment (HOPE), Finkelstein was one of several Five College students who assisted in the fight against building a privately owned waste transfer station near a residential neighborhood in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

As part of a sociology class taught by Smith College professor Ginetta Candelario, Finkelstein helped provide information for members of HOPE and neighborhood residents, many of them Spanish-speaking, as they challenged the plans at numerous meetings and forums. She is continuing that assistance as she completes Division III research related to the conflicting paradigms of social justice in a community and the need for facilities like this transfer station.

“We were trying to talk to the people in the neighborhood, spread information on what was going on, and find out what information they needed,” says Finkelstein. “We did door-to-door surveys, and many were done in Spanish. The research we produced caused a stir among local politicians. People were not taking [the fight against the transfer station] seriously, and we helped bring in the language of environmental justice.”

The concept of environmental justice focuses on the belief that many low-income neighborhoods, particularly those with a predominantly minority population, have to face heavier environmental burdens than do more-affluent communities.

The waste transfer station proposal, says Finkelstein, is an example of that: Holyoke has one of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in Massachusetts, and opponents of the station, which would be built on land abutting the city’s wastewater treatment facility, say that bringing in up to 200 more diesel-fueled trucks per day will add to air-pollution levels. Noise pollution, increased road maintenance costs, and property devaluation are also feared if the transfer station is built.

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