For immediate release
Over 250 doctors, nurses, public health professionals, air pollution researchers and 13 organizations released an open letter today calling on the City of Minneapolis to move or substantially alter plans for a controversial Public Works project slated for the neighborhood of East Phillips, and take “concrete, transparent, and verifiable steps” to ensure air pollution is reduced in the long-polluted area.
While much of the public dialogue has focused on the demolition of the Roof Depot building and levels of arsenic in the soil, the project would also entail a significant expansion of the diesel fleet using the East Phillips facility. Researchers say that vehicular pollution is an often overlooked factor in public policy that nevertheless has major health consequences.
“It’s well established that air pollution is harmful to our health, particularly for vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, and those with existing disease. Diesel exhaust is a notably dangerous air pollutant, as it contains heavy metals, volatile compounds, and even carcinogens. Exposure to these toxins can lead to multiple adverse outcomes, leading to increased hospital admissions, emergency room visits, and premature death. It’s time for policymakers to catch up and take the research into account when making planning decisions,” said Professor Jesse Berman, an air pollution expert at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
City engineers have said that the project would consolidate the Public Works vehicle fleet, reducing overall pollution in the city of Minneapolis.
However, health equity experts have raised alarms about the proposed location of the new, centralized facility. East Phillips has experienced the disproportionate impact of decades of industrial pollution, enabled by city zoning laws. The neighborhood is ringed by major roadways, and a metal foundry and asphalt plant help make it one of the most polluted areas in Minnesota. East Phillips residents are 71% people of color, with a median income 37% below Minneapolis as a whole.
Dr. Nathan Chomilo, a health equity expert and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota said, “For decades, structural racism in our city planning has directly contributed to the racial health inequities we see. We are at a moment where we have the awareness and power to make different decisions. Decisions centered on communities who have already borne the brunt of generations of direct and indirect discrimination. Consolidating a diesel fleet into an already polluted, disadvantaged neighborhood will compound our city’s racism public health crisis. It is a step backwards, not forwards.”
The project is currently halted due to a court injunction amidst years-long opposition from residents. A Minnesota Court of Appeals hearing is slated for May 9. Meanwhile, advocates are calling for a complete rethinking of the project.
“We call on Mayor Frey to rise above petty politics, come back to the table, and do what it takes to reconsider this project. The health of community members is extremely important and should be a top priority when making decisions that affect their wellbeing,” said Inari Mohammad, an epidemiologist and member of the Seward Vaccine Equity Project.
Signatories run the gamut of health care, public health, and research in the Twin Cities. The complete open letter is viewable at: