The dream for this project is much bigger than its current reality. Right now, it is a map with two points marked on it and only one of those points (Milwaukee) will take you anywhere. However, it represents the seed from which I am hoping to grow a collaborative effort to document incidents of urban toxicity in the United States. A project I am (creatively) calling, The Urban Toxicity Project.

The United States’ urban infrastructure, things like sewers, municipal water systems, and housing was built primarily during the 20th century. That infrastructure is now decaying. Infrastructure has a limited lifespan, and without constant upkeep and updates, it will, eventually, break. Upkeep of urban infrastructure tends to be thought of as a “tomorrow problem,” so it is frequently cut from city budgets. Unfortunately, tomorrow problems eventually becomes today problems and that is the crisis we are currently facing.

Thousands of people in urban areas across the US are affected by exposure to contaminants from aging infrastructure. Minorities and low-income individuals are disproportionately more likely to be affected, making this an environmental justice issue. Too often, the communities experiencing urban toxicity are dismissed by political leaders and policymakers. This is the first thing my website was designed to address. I created a map, with pins representing collaborative research projects that visually document the experiences of people living with exposure to contaminants. Clicking on the pins takes you to a website for that project. This will give communities a tool to use in education and advocacy efforts.

The second thing this site is designed to provide was a place where people who have been affected by exposure to various contaminants can see that they are not alone. Many of the participants in the Milwaukee project, talked about how they were ashamed, or afraid to ask for help after their child was diagnosed with lead poisoning because they thought it was something they had done wrong. It was only after meeting others in their community who had experienced the same thing, that they realized it wasn’t their fault. They emphasized that they wanted their experiences to help others. That is what this project is trying to accomplish.

I hope you will keep an eye on the page, as I will be adding a project from Flint, MI, in the near future. And hopefully, in the not too distant future, I will be able to add the work of other researchers and other communities.

— Cara J.