The Common Good

Reflections on an Eco-Justice Anacostia River Tour (PHOTOS)

On Saturday, Sojourners sent a group of staff members sailing down the Anacostia River.

Brandon Hook / Sojourners
The river tour gave a few of us the opportunity to get some waders on and clean the river. Brandon Hook / Sojourners

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But this was no pleasure trip.

Dottie Yunger, from the Anacostia Watershed Society, teamed up with Sojourners’ Creation Care campaign to teach some of our staff and a few other members of the local community about the state of the Anacostia river, how we as people of faith can be better stewards of our God-given resources, and how we can help create a healthier system where all creatures (both human and non-human) can survive and flourish.

Here are a few reflections from the trip:

Into the ‘Sacrifice Zone’

by Cindy Martens

“Sacrifice Zone” is a new phrase I learned on my eco-justice boat tour of the Anacostia River this past weekend. Sacrifice zones are areas of the country trapped in endless cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair as a direct result of capitalistic greed.

While the Anacostia is not technically identified as a sacrifice zone, I don’t know what else you call it when the children at River Terrace Elementary, the closest school to Pepco Power Benning Road facility, have an asthma rate of 24 percent — a 10 percent increase over the average of rate of 14 percent in the District of Columbia, which itself has one of the highest asthma rates in the country.

Pepco Power’s Benning Road facility for years has spilled toxic chemicals into the Anacostia River and surrounding properties.

Someone is being sacrificed. And like other sacrifice sites across our country — the people who suffer are poor, often a minority, and the health issues disproportionally affect the children and elders of the communities.

They have a term for it in the Bible too. It’s called sin.

Creating a Fishable Anacostia

by Martin Witchger

A highlight of the tour is visiting a trash trap, a simple but incredibly effective contraption that collects floating litter and debris in a smaller stream preventing it from flowing into the greater Anacostia River.

Here at Kenilworth Park, a former landfill, and not far from the PEPCO power plant, this Australian-designed technology, called a Bandalong Litter Trap, was the first of its kind to be installed in the Western Hemisphere. Now there are several in the area and around the country.

We had the opportunity to put on some hip-waders and jump in and join the effort to clean up the river, sorting the trash and recyclable material that collects in this trash trap.

It was reported that about 10,000 pounds of trash is removed from this trap alone each year, saving the ecosystem downstream from its pollution and contamination — one step closer to a swimmable and fishable Anacostia River.

When Eco-Justice Hits Home

by Janelle Tupper

I am a native of the Anacostia River watershed, but I might be on the wrong side of the story.

As we learned about the chemical contamination from the now-inactive power plant, I realized that for most of my life, my electricity was likely coming from that source of unknown toxic chemicals — and likely asthma — for many of my neighbors.

I wondered if any trash from my home town, which is just ten minutes away, had been dumped in the landfill, or burned in an incinerator.

As the speakers talked about fishermen in the river who don’t know that their catch is full of chemicals, I remembered all the family bike rides along the river when I observed these fishermen without giving thought to their well-being. 

The river tour was a wake-up call, as I realized that not only had I benefitted from others’ environmental sacrifice, I hadn’t even known they existed.

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