Breathless in the 94621

Nehandra Imara

Children growing up with asthma are a reality for families living in the 94621. “The most polluted zip code in Oakland,” said Nehanda  Imara, an organizer with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE).

“We need to know what we’re breathing, what’s in our environment!” reads the CBE publication, announcing the Latino East Oakland Resident Leaders, organized by Imara. The group was recruited to conduct the study, “A Breath of Fresh Air: East Oakland Residents Leading Action to Improve Local Air Quality.” The  study trained 38 adult Latino East  Oakland Resident Leaders  in: 1) procedures for face-to-face in-depth interviews, 2) techniques in using various air monitoring equipment and 3) procedures for logging data.

The study found fine particulate matter 2.5 microgram per cubic meter of air,  a size which experts agree can enter the bloodstream through the lungs and is linked to respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis and asthma. Living conditions that jeopardize the lives of hundreds of children playing at Acron Woodland, Community United, East Oakland Pride, Encompass Academy, Greenleaf and New Highland Academy Elementary Schools—all located in the 94621.

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 4.08.55 PM
94621 – the most polluted zip code in Oakland

“Both children in my household are diagnosed with asthma,” said Leticia Hernandez who participated in the study. Ten adults who were interviewed as part of the study reported that one member of their household has asthma.

The Latino East Oakland Resident Leaders also expressed concerns about diesel trucks traversing their neighborhood.

“CBE is a triad type organization consisting of organizers, legal and science teams,” Imara said.

Its legal team has to date stopped Stewart Enterprises from building a crematorium in the 94621.

Founded in 1978, CBE has been working to stop the five Bay Area refineries from importing dirty crude which would increase pollution and greenhouse gases. It would also increase the probability of industrial disasters like the 2012 fire at the Richmond Chevron refinery or the recent train derailment in West Virginia, because trains would carry lower quality, more corrosive crude for refineries to process.

Imara told me, “We don’t need another drop of pollution.”

Imara also serves as an adjunct teacher of African American and Environmental Studies at Merritt College. She created the first Environmental Racism/Justice course at the Peralta Community College District. Professor Imara lives in East Oakland, suffers from asthma, but like a breath of fresh air, she empowers the voiceless into action—a 94621 community change agent.

In addition to pollution, she talked about forces she called, “social stressors,” which include the negative impact of foreclosures, unemployment, over policing, food desserts, blight and the lack of affordable housing and safe parks.

“Blight, like in abandoned gas stations?” I asked.

“Yes,” she responded.

I shared my concerns about blight caused by abandoned gas stations that had leaking underground gasoline storage tanks in East Oakland.

My Oakland Voices colleague, Sara Rowley, and I have conducted a months-long investigation into the issue of abandoned gas stations in East Oakland. Tomorrow, Oakland Voices will feature those stories.


Author Profile

Gerald Green is a 25-year cancer survivor. Green released his memoir Life Constricted: To Love, Hugs and Laughter in 2010, which chronicles his family’s saga and victories over his three bouts with cancer: tongue cancer in 1995, neck cancer in 1997 and prostate cancer in 2008. His chapter, Fatherhood Love, appeared in the second edition of Black Fathers an Invisible Presence in America published by Routledge in 2011. Green’s poetry has appeared in the Healing Journey, an on-line publication, and The Monthly, a premier magazine of culture and commerce, which published one of his essays. Green’s writings like his article Prostate Cancer’s Time Zone reflect the importance of early cancer detection and the healthy impact of a loving family. Green is a member of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) and the American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ACRIN) ECOG-ACRIN Head and Neck Cancer Committee and the Cancer Research Advocates Committee.

1 Comment

  1. I was born in East Oakland and raised in the flatlands and yes I had Asthma and bronchitis until I grew out of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.