Raúl Grijalva hosts Tucson community meeting on environmental justice bill

Published: Thursday, April 21, 2022 - 3:56pm
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Raúl Grijalva

Southern Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva hosted a community event in Tucson on Wednesday to give details about a bill he’s part of that would make access to clean air and water a right protected by law. 

Grijalva introduced the Environmental Justice for All Act just over a year ago. He said if passed, it will give long awaited legal recourse to communities disproportionately affected by environmental contaminants, all over the country.

"Each region having an different impact with the same result, that some communities suffer the effects of environmental justice at much, much higher rates," he said. "This issue has been studied, this issue has already had an effect. And this issue needs to be remediated."

Grijalva said in the past that remediation work has been dependent on the will and priorities of the sitting president. It’s meant federal aid for Tucson’s south side, an area plagued by contaminated water, has sometimes been held back. Steven Valencia said the problem has impacted generations of residents, like his family. 

"The same water that my daughters drank, the same water that we had to bathe our children in, the same water that we cooked with was contaminated by trichloroethylene and a whole bunch of other chemicals," he said. "But for a long time there was denial, inaction and a real insensitivity to our community."

Trichloroethylene, known as TCE, is a chemical that was used to clean old airplanes at the Davis-Monthan Air Force base. It was found in high levels in the south side’s water 40 years ago. Health problems like cancer associated with TCE.  

On top of TCE contamination, more recently, some water in the Tucson area has been found to have PFAS, another long-lasting chemical widely used in nonstick cookware, waterproof jackets and other products that is linked to health problems. Earlier this year, the city launched a pilot project to remove PFAS contamination from groundwater near the airbase.

Valencia said the south side residents have suffered from high levels on cancer diagnoses and other health effects. He said the chemical's effects may take years to fully understand, he hopes the bill will offer new hope for communities trying to protect themselves.

Grijalva said the bill would consult municipalities and tribal communities to address current issues and protection against future contaminants. He was joined by local leaders like Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, Pima County Supervisor Adelita Grijalva and Pascua Yaqui Tribe Chairman Peter Yucupicio.