Lucy Molina has spent years advocating for environmental justice for her community. She explains why.
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Residents of Commerce City have been concerned about the air quality in their community for years. Residential neighborhoods are surrounded by highways and refineries, which contribute to high levels of fine particulate pollution.
For some community members, their environment can dictate their lives overwhelmingly.
Lucy Molina, for example, had lived in the area all her life. She can’t remember a time when she or her family didn’t have to fill jugs with filtered or purified water for cooking.
“And we always have bottled water to drink,” she said. “If a third-grader can understand that drinking this water makes him sick, then anyone can understand.”
Molina is a single mother of two children and said she had to have a filter for their shower/bath water because her son had eczema. She said her son’s skin would be irritated without using the filtered water.
“I also have a bloody nose, I also have migraines, I also have asthma, it’s normal, but it shouldn’t be normal,” Molina said.
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Molina lost her grandmother to leukemia in 2018 and believes environmental factors played a role in her illness.
Talking to her neighbours, Molina said it’s very common to find that her family isn’t the only one with health issues that she says are related to the environment in which they live.
“Unfortunately I feel like this could be our future too, this could be our future, cancer, leukemia, my cousin is battling lupus, my aunt right now is battling breast cancer for the second time .”
According to findings from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), area children are at high risk for lead poisoning. State data also indicates that residents of Commerce City and North Denver have more severe respiratory problems than the rest of the state.
While rates of adults with asthma are similar to those in the rest of the state, area residents visit the emergency room a lot for asthma. According to the CDPHE, this could be due to higher pollution levels, differences in the severity of residents’ asthma or less access to routine health care.
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Molina is one of many members of the Commerce City community advocating for environmental justice. Unfortunately, she says, Molina feels her community is often left behind in the eyes of government agencies and elected officials.
“We are worth it, our children are worth it,” she said. “It’s not just a Commerce City problem. Denver, Globeville, Swansea, we’re all, we’re in the middle between the freeways, Suncor.”
In August 2021, the CDPHE released the results of the first round of air quality monitoring in the Commerce City and North Denver areas. The report found that fine particle pollution levels were higher in the area than in other locations in Denver and the state.
The report found that the sources of this pollution came from the Suncor refinery, cars and more distant sources like smoke from wildfires.
Volatile organic compounds have not reached levels where experts would expect health effects. However, it was unclear how these compounds may interact with other pollutants to cause impacts.
Dr. Anthony Gerber is a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health and director of pulmonary research. He is also part of the State Air Quality Control Commission.
Gerber explained that in addition to looking at the physical impacts of pollution, it’s also important to recognize the psychological effects.
“There’s this psychological factor of you knowing my community is being left behind and that creates stress and other impacts that can negatively impact your health,” he said. “The psychological burden of seeing clouds, if the clouds are toxic, just the idea that there’s this activity, this industrial activity in my neighborhood, but it’s not in someone’s neighborhood. ‘other, I think it’s an impact that we have to consider as real. “
In other words, just seeing you’re surrounded by potentially dangerous chemicals or smelling something you believe is toxic has real impacts.
“Whether or not smell accurately assesses risk, our minds are programmed to think of it as risk,” Gerber said.
9NEWS has reached out to CDPHE to confirm the number of active air monitors in the area and whether further action is being taken to address community concerns. At the time of publication of this article, we had not received a response.
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