Kerim Odekon is a clinical assistant professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine at Stony Brook University.
The Town of Brookhaven’s recently announced, long-in-the-making plan to expand the Town of Brookhaven Landfill is raising concern about environmental injustice. Community members took issue with the lack of transparency, environmental risk and disproportionate impact to North Bellport, a majority working-class Black and Latinx neighborhood in the Town of Brookhaven. Activist Shoshana Hershkowitz describes the town’s proposal to expand the landfill, after years of promising to close the site, as an environmental and racial injustice.
Officials overseeing the landfill expansion project include Brookhaven’s Waste Chief, Recycling & Sustainable Materials Management Commissioner Christopher Andrade. He is supposed to act as a safeguard for the health and safety of the communities affected by the landfill. Living in proximity to a landfill risks health consequences from landfill gases to respiratory irritants. Brookhaven Landfill is a sensitive and potentially-toxic site that has already been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) for inaction and mismanagement surrounding air quality measures.
The town deserves strong leaders who are rigorous and relentless champions of public safety, people who are committed to following and enforcing laws that protect thousands of nearby residents. Andrade’s views about racial inequality and immigration on his Facebook account suggest that he may be the wrong person to fairly address concerns about structural racism and environmental policy on Long Island.
On Sept. 16, he commented on National Football League (NFL) players’ efforts to confront racism and inequality in the United States, stating “keep kneeling…keep glorifying criminals.”
Andrade’s dismissal of NFL player’s actions against systemic racial injustice and conflation with “glorifying criminals” does not inspire confidence about his ability to listen to and work with local community groups seeking to address environmental injustice and racism.
The NYS DEC, the state agency responsible for monitoring the environmental consequences of the Brookhaven Landfill describes environmental justice as an effort to ensure that “no group of people, including a racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations.”
The need for these policies arose, according to the NYS DEC, because historically, minority and low-income communities often suffered disproportionate harm as the result of development projects and policies. The community adjacent to the Brookhaven Landfill is a DEC-designated “potential environmental justice area” to recognize the region as a “minority or low-income community that may bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences” from public projects like the proposed landfill expansion.
Andrade’s public disapproval of those who are fighting to end systemic racism raises concerns about how he would view community claims that the landfill has had a disproportionate impact on a low-income, minority neighborhood – especially one that is documented to have the lowest life expectancy on Long Island. Suffolk County is already grappling with wide disparities in health across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. The community surrounding the landfill’s health should be a focus of public prioritization, not disregard.
In another post from Aug. 8, 2019, Andrade cheers President Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban, using language that is both crude and xenophobic. Andrade proudly re-posts, “IMMIGRANTS, NOT AMERICANS, MUST ADAPT […] We speak ENGLISH, not Spanish, […] or any other language […] This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE […] I highly encourage you to take advantage of one other great AMERICAN freedom, ‘THE RIGHT TO LEAVE…”
Andrade’s public endorsement of xenophobic love-it-or-leave-it language and ideology has no place within the Town of Brookhaven’s top decision-making offices. The diversity of almost half a million people within the Town of Brookhaven is our strength, not a threat. This rhetoric also raises concern of how Andrade views the residents of North Bellport, 33.4 percent of whom are Hispanic.
Andrade’s troubling social media posts show poor judgment and raise questions about whether he is fit to supervise the socially and ecologically sensitive task of managing the Brookhaven Landfill and any proposed expansion.
The Brookhaven Town Board recently declared, “Brookhaven Town has been built upon a history of inclusion and diversity.” Andrade’s public opinions are contrary to the values of our community and public office. Brookhaven residents deserve a higher standard from their commissioners to ensure minority and low-income communities do not bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences of Long Island’s waste management policy.