SHELBURNE, N.S. – Boots are on the ground for a two-year applied research project into water quality issues in the Shelburne African Nova Scotia community.
The project is being led by Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) Research Scientist Dr. Etienne Mfoumou and his Engineered Technologies Applied Research Team. Acadia University, Dalhousie University through ENRICH (Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health), the South End Environmental Injustice Society (SEED) and Rural Water Watch are also involved in the project: “Pilot Scale Study of Potable Water using Ultrafiltration Technology in the Shelburne African Nova Scotia Community.”
With funding for the study awarded in June through the Social Sciences and Humanitarian Research Council, it’s “still very early. We’re only at month four,” said Dwayne MacLeod community innovation lead with NSCC at a public information session on Oct. 18 at the Shelburne Campus. The study will include conducting “water testing and assess the specifics of the results and address the feasibility of using ultra filtration technology to improve drinking water challenges in a cost-effective manner.”
Dr. Mfoumou said the project is “highly collaborative work” that will include making new connections, acquiring new resources, informing new perspectives, implementing new practices, and bring the community and research team together in order to research the social and economical challenges.
“We’re using innovation to positively impact the community, but we can’t pretend to be doing that alone. We have to do it with the community,” said Dr. Mfoumou. “The project will lead to recommendations that any partner looking at the issue will have access to. By bringing results to the community and stakeholders along the way, we will foster a better understand of the project and issues involved and be ready to work together as to how the community can move forward.”
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Louise Delisle, president of SEED, said she feels the project is “a turning point in the community.”
“We are working together as a team to ensure we have good clean water. For the past two years SEED has discussed how best to move forward is to grow our work in evidence-based research. We’re trying to research what will make us healthy. Where do we start, how do we do it, how do we work with other people to get it done?” she said.
“Our priority is community health. Without clean water how can we be healthy? There are still many unanswered questions,” Delisle said, adding answers will be found in research. “I hope these evidence-based strategies will be used to improve health outcomes and the prevalence of chronic disease in the black community. Clean water is the first and most important step in the process. I feel with this project we are being pushed ahead to a healthier community.”
Additional research over the next few years will also include a history of the Shelburne town landfill which operated from 1949 to 1990 in the south end of town in a predominantly black and poor community. With residential, industrial, and sometimes medical waste from throughout eastern Shelburne County burned at the dump over the years, SEED feels the dump is a contributing factor to the high rates of cancer and health issues they’ve seen among the people who lived close to it.
“This summer we had a hard summer,” said Delisle. “A lot of people had dry wells and still are in hard shape. We did some water testing and the tests didn’t come back very good. There are still people in the community who cannot drink their water. There are people in the community who cannot even wash their vegetables or shower in their water. It is a very dire strait when don’t have water, and when you think about where we live, we should have good clean water at all times.”
Delisle said the applied research project will also look at the impact on property values due to the proximity of the town dump, the ongoing health impact in the community and increase the community’s capacity for water and soil testing.
“There’s an African proverb, if you want to go quickly you go alone, if you want to go far you go together,” she said. “The more partners we have the better off we are and the healthier the community is. We are today ahead of many other black communities in Nova Scotia because of our partnerships.”
“Environmental racism refers to the disproportionate location of industrial polluters such as landfills, trash incinerators, coal plants, toxic waste facilities and other environmentally hazardous activities near to communities of colour and the working poor,” states the ENRICH project website. “It is also characterized by the lack of organization and political power that these communities hold for advocating against the siting of industrial polluters, the uneven negative impacts of environmental procedures, the uneven negative impacts of environmental policies, and the disproportionate access to environmental services such as garbage removal.”
Led by Dr. Ingrid Waldon, the ENRICH Project was established in 2012 to address the health and socio-economic effects of environmental racism in Mi’kmaw and African Nova Scotian communities. In 2015, ENRICH collaborated with MLA Lenore Zann to develop the first private members bill to address environmental racism in Canada. The bill, entitled Bill 111: An Act to Address Environmental Racism in Nova Scotia, was introduced at the Legislature in 2015. The bill made it to second reading but wasn’t passed by the Liberals.
On Sept. 13, Zann, who is the NDP’s environment spokesperson, introduced another private member’s bill on the same issue. Bill 31, An Act to Redress Environmental Racism, calls for the establishment of a panel to explore environmental racism in the province and provide recommendations to address issues that communities are becoming more vocal about such as health concerns and the lowering of property values in communities where there is an environmental racism aspect of some kind.
“Within one year of the coming into force of this Act, the panel shall consult the public, on a Province-wide basis, about the issue of environmental racism, with special emphasis given to consultation with the African Nova Scotian, First Nations and Acadian communities, and provide a report to the Ministers that sets out its findings and recommendations,” reads the Bill in part.
“This is a major thing and a key issue for the south end of Shelburne,” said NDP Leader Gary Burrill during a visit to Shelburne County last week. The establishment of a panel as outlined in Bill 31 “would move us to a place where this problem is being addressed,” said Burrill, with a panel, he said, making recommendations to government “about incidents of environmental racism and redress for environmental racism as we know has been experienced and is being experienced around the province.”