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Heavy Polluting Transit in Massachusetts, USA

Successful story against urban transport heavy air pollution and how local citizens groups came together and mobilize to demand institutional changes and reparation


In the mid 1990s, there was concern over outdoor air quality in the state. A study found that there 1996 revealed that there were more than 15 truck and bus depots within a one-mile radius of Roxbury, garaging more than 1,150 diesel vehicles. Roxbury is home to a 95% minority population and a 27% poverty rate. The excessive pollution from transportation caused a severe asthma epidemic especially in children. The youth led response began monitoring air quality in 1997 with the program AirBeat (sponsored by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency). The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP) began discussions on creating an ambient air quality regulation. Several grassroots organizations began community outreach, education and movements including marches, and sending postcards for justice. The mobilization level was high, in reaction to the asthma epidemic, especially in the youth. Also in reaction to studies that found a disproportionate number transit stations in Roxbury. There has been increased collaboration between community groups, environmental justice organizations and state/ federal environmental organizations. They have passed an anti-idling laws that have significantly reduced pollution levels. Community group, ACE, has been successful in 2009, by getting Capitol Waste Services, the largest residential trash hauler in Boston to install retrofits on 72 trucks. In 2011, ACE got Brigham and Women's Hospital, to commit to reducing diesel emissions on current and future projects. They are currently working on a Diesel Emissions Reduction Ordinance (DERO) for Boston, it would require pollution control technology on city owned and contracted diesel engines. Additionally, vehicles would use ultra low sulfur diesel fuel, and strictly adhere to state anti-idling laws.

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Heavy Polluting Transit in Massachusetts, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Massachusetts
Location of conflict:Roxbury
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Urban development conflicts
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Its population of 60,000 people is about 70 percent African American and 18 percent Latino. The poverty rate is more than 30 percent in the neighborhood and 45 percent for children under 18 (U.S. Census Report, 1990)

Project area:101
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:~60,000
Start of the conflict:1995
Company names or state enterprises:Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Massachusetts Department of Transportation
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), Harvard University School of Public Health, Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), Suffolk County Conservation District, AirBeat, Massachusetts Diesel Pollution Solution Coalition
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases
Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:Attempts to pass state laws (Senate) that would require most state-owned heavy duty vehicles and municipal garbage and recycling trucks to install pollution retrofits by 2011 and 2012
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:The affected community has been effective in creating organizations and working with state and federal agencies. They also were able to have 'meaningful participation' with the local communities. Overall, they were able to get legislation and major changes to cut the environmental hazards. The state in 2006 also agreed to spend 22.5 millions by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs to retrofit its school and transit bus.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Massachusetts Anti-Idling Law

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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Massachusetts Diesel Pollution Solution
[click to view]

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan.
Meta information
Contributor:Sara Orvis, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update04/01/2016
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