Hi, everyone. Today’s post by Tony, is one to which I can relate.
By Tony Candela
I sit in my apartment in a nice section of the Bronx in New York City that lays on the border of a neighborhood that is different from mine. The Demographic change that manifests itself only a few blocks away reflects the kind of diversity and noticeable environmental shift one sees in many places in the City. In just a few blocks, the transition goes from a predominantly white middle-class neighborhood to a predominantly Spanish-speaking one. The people in my neighborhood are a mix of Irish, Italian, Jewish, and just about everything else. The people a few blocks away hail mainly from the Dominican Republic. The local Catholic church includes two Spanish-speaking masses in its offerings each Sunday. Dominican restaurants are sprinkled in between legacy Italian, Irish and Chinese ones. The sidewalks change from clear and quiet to cluttered and noisy as tables abound during the day, occupied by sidewalk vendors. Not all of the vendors are Spanish-speaking. One of them is a white English-speaking man who always says hello to me. Another is a black fellow who also says hello whenever I walk past.
Further to the east and only a few blocks away lies a major highway that cuts off these neighborhoods from a mixture of other ones on the other side. In the midst of all this is very little in the way of industry, although the scuttle-butt is that some type of meat processing facility is about to occupy an abandoned 24-Hour Fitness building just two blocks from where I live. A block or so away is a gas station and car wash in direct alignment with my apartment building, but they seem tame enough. All this is to say that although the neighborhood is a bit of a cornucopia, there is little to suggest toxic injustice might be taking place.
The term “toxic injustice” derives from the more global “environmental injustice”, illustrated by well-known instances of (often socially disadvantaged minorities) living in places with heavy industry, water tainted by lead, waste treatment plants, or chemical dumps. Lately, we have seen the deleterious effects of climate-change as people are trapped in “heat islands” places devoid of green space and housing units without central air conditioning. Although my immediate area has lots of greenery for a city space, including a nice pocket-park a half-block away, the building in which I live, about 75 years old, has no central air conditioning.
This brings me to my little corner of the world, the interior of my apartment where I have lived and worked for seven years. Since the pandemic that began in 2020 and much-alleviated as I write, I have been interned there much of the time. About a year ago, something changed. Each October when the heat comes up, we experience the smell of the old pipes receiving hot water from the boilers for the first time in several months. The smell dissipates after a few days. A year ago, it didn’t dissipate, at least not for me. I noticed it so much, I reported it to my landlady. During the summer, hot water no longer flowing through the heating pipes but outdoor and even some indoor smoking on the rise, I began noticing cigarette smoke permeating my apartment. As I write, the heat has resumed. Now I get double-doses of smoke and fumes. It is near-impossible to tell where the fumes and smoke come from, other than best-guesses (the heating pipes and smokers in apartments and sidewalks facing my windows). I have again reported same to my landlady who indicates she will look into it.
It is my best guess that nothing will happen. Pipes can be purged of excess hot water and scraped and repainted and I can be advised to close all windows and use my portable air conditioner year-round. Or, people can be given strong policy notices about where and when to smoke that might protect us whose windows face places where cigarettes burn. Or, I can learn to live with it or move to a more modern building. The injustice lies in the fact of the exposure which has irritated my nose and caused my eyes to sting and throat to twinge. I am now hyper-sensitive, so any amount of smoke and fumes bothers me. Whether it is damaging my lungs, time will tell, but it has already damaged my sense of wellbeing and disturbed my sleep, long-term repercussions still to be seen.
Toxic injustice is pernicious. It is often under-estimated or accommodated to so well that people forget they are experiencing it, but organized advocacy has often been effective (May and Kryder-Reid, 2024). Generally, the types of environmental invasions that get written about or make the news are quite graphic and the effects over time deadly. Even then, it has taken enormous efforts to achieve even a few examples of alleviation.
I do not think my experiences will leave much of a mark. Perhaps there will be a memory of a fellow who once lived in the building, but it will fade after a short while. After all, we are all but moments in time, so it is incumbent upon each of us to do our best to make our mark. If I am lucky, maybe people will be thankful to building management for getting the pipes cleaned and for policies that might get smokers to take better care of how they spread their secondary toxins. That would be fine with me.
May, S. and Kryder-Reid, E., eds. (2024). Toxic Heritage, New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis.
Anthony R. Candela, Author
Saying aloud what should not remain silent.
Books by Tony…
Stand Up Or Sit Out: Memories and Musings Of a Blind Wrestler, Runner, and All-around Regular Guy
A memoir about life lessons learned, especially through sports
Vision Dreams: A Parable
A sci-fi novella about how a dysfunctional society forces people to go to extremes, including four blind people who seek out artificial vision.
More About Tony…
Tony Candela has worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor, supervisor, manager consultant and administrator for more than 40 years in the field of blindness and visual impairment. His work has included promoting literacy and employment of blind persons and a special interest in enhancing the career preparation of blind persons who wish to work in the computer science field. He is a “retired” athlete, loves movies, sports, reading, writing, and music, including dabbling in guitar.