Ivy City residents praise new legislation aimed at addressing environmental injustices

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WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — On Monday, three D.C. Councilmembers introduced legislation aimed at addressing environmental injustices in the District.

“We will no longer accept environmental racism, the devastation, the polluting on behalf of big business,” said Ward 5 Councilmember Zachary Parker, sponsor of the “Environmental Justice Amendment Act of 2023.”

The act does as follows:

  • Require the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) to adopt the CDC’s Environmental Justice Index to determine communities overburdened by pollution, with the ability to develop their own index to be updated every five years.

    • The CDC’s index is informed by a host of factors including air pollution concentration, hazardous and toxic sites, transportation infrastructure, socio-economic vulnerabilities and pre-existing health characteristics of the population.

  • Create a process that DOEE will oversee to evaluate new and existing sources of pollution in overburdened communities to understand how they contribute to the cumulative impact experienced.

  • Leverage a process to stop entities from operating in overburdened communities if DOEE analysis reveals their actions disproportionately impact the environmental health of communities

  • Build cumulative impact analysis into the District’s major planning processes so that its local government acknowledges and reduces its contribution to the environmental burdens experienced by these communities.

  • Establish an Energy and Environmental Justice Division within DOEE

“We will not tolerate this injustice in our community any longer,” said Parker.

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Parker introduced the legislation alongside At-Large Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie in Ivy City, just across from the National Engineering Products Incorporated (NEPI).

Neighbors living near the chemical plant have long rallied together, calling for NEPI to be relocated.

“We’re being poisoned. Our community is being poisoned,” said Sebrena Rhodes, an Ivy City resident and member of Empower DC.

NEPI has been operating on Capitol Avenue NE since the 1940’s. The company produces high-temperature sealant and an electrical insulating compound used by the U.S. Navy.

The company told DC News Now that it operates a “critical and essential operation due to our government contacts.”

But, Rhodes said chemicals coming from the plant are killing neighbors.

Ivy City neighbors push to close down longstanding chemical plant

“Some of the chemicals they use are odorless and colorless. They are in our community, they cause cancer, they cause leukemia, they cause birth defects,” she said.

She’s hopeful the new legislation will lead to some action against the company.

“It’s bigger than NEP. We will hold any and all industrial polluters accountable for their businesses and for them poisoning our communities,” said Rhodes. “They are across the country. Everyone knows a lot of these industrial facilities are in black and brown neighborhoods.”

NEPI declined to do an interview with DC News Now, but in an email, the company said:

“NEPI is in full compliance with all DC regulations.  It was recently brought to our attention that in addition to our EPA ID number and other DC Licenses that an air permit is required.  As soon as we became aware of this we began our work with both the DOEE and the Regional EPA out of PA.  We continue to work with DOEE on this process.  We are in full compliance with all DC Water mandates including Backflow Prevention Devices.  However, it is important to note that water does not ever come in contact with any chemical during our process.”

It also noted monthly testing will occur from Aug. through Dec. throughout the entire Ivy City neighborhood. It will look at levels around various facilities like the Distillery, the Auto Detailer and more. The results of the testing will be made public once the studies are complete.

A report commissioned and released by DOEE in Feb. stated, “Formaldehyde was detected directly downwind of the facility in community exposure sample 3 (maximum concentration of 0.0084 mg/m 3) and east of the Site at community exposure sample 1.”

The Environmental Protection Agency considers Formaldehyde a carcinogen.

“It’s next to houses,” said Ivy City resident Ryan Lineham.

Lineham, who has lived in the neighborhood for eight years, said he’s hopeful about the legislation.

“I think breathing is important. We all need to breathe clean air. We need to do better as a society,” he said.

Councilmember Parker noted this legislation is about more than just NEPI.

“The District has concentrated many sources of pollution in communities where neighbors are already struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “I respect and acknowledge people are trying to make a living. This is not personal to anyone who is working in this facility behind us.”

Parker is hoping to have a hearing date set for the legislation soon.

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