A Just Transition to Zero Waste in Brooks, OR.

It was a good day for door knocking in Brooks, Oregon! Last month, I joined Clean Air Organizer Carina Perez in canvassing a neighborhood near the Covanta Marion incinerator. This door knocking effort is part of Oregon Physician for Social Responsibility’s Healthy Climate Program to engage people on health and air quality issues in their community.

Oregon PSR's Healthy Climate Program works towards a just transition to zero waste, and opposing the harmful and extractive systems of waste incineration. We have been active in opposing incineration of municipal and medical waste in Marion County, in opposing pyrolysis proposals in Tigard, and plasma gasification proposals in Arlington and other communities. We have also promoted expanding programs for waste prevention and reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, and community education.

Covanta Marion in front of a playground in Brooks, Oregon.

Some people are not aware that the smoke arising from the towering orange-white striped tube near the I-5 Brooks exit North of Salem is actually an incinerator site that burns trash of various kinds. The Covanta Marion incinerator can be seen emitting toxins which are carried over by the wind across the highway and other areas at times. During our canvas in Brooks last month one of the things that really hit me was how close the incinerator actually was to the community - including neighborhoods, businesses, and schools.

Across the United States, about 80% of incinerators are located in environmental justice communities. The unincorporated community in Brooks, Oregon follows this same pattern of environmental racism. It is a small unincorporated community in Marion County with agricultural workers located off of the I-5 Freeway. Brooks is a small community of 492 people with 47% representation of Latina/o/x/e people and 41% of the population speaking Spanish. The hardworking residents of Brooks are unfortunately taking on the health cost of a massive incinerator that burns waste from across the state of Oregon and beyond.

Brooks has a high percentage of Spanish speaking residents


8/10 incinerators are located in EJ communities nationally

In our door knocking, we surveyed residents in both English and Spanish who were eager to learn more about their neighboring incinerator. We talked to families who have lived there for years including some with people in their network with underlying health conditions, such as asthma. There was a genuine interest from people we spoke to to find out more about air quality and health impacts of incineration.

Having grown up in an environmental justice community of South Central Los Angeles with brownfield sites and histories of redlining, I understand that our hard working communities don’t always have the time for or access to information about air quality and hazards. However, this is why it is important to go where communities are at and knock on doors and connect with people and provide them access to information and input. I am honored to have joined Carina Perez in the campaign she is leading in her county to raise awareness and help connect the dots between the environmental impacts and human health.

Carina Perez & David De La Torre health survey in Brooks

If you are interested in supporting our campaign but can’t join a canvass, please consider offering a donation to our healthy climate program at https://www.oregonpsr.org/donate. If you donate before the end of the year your donation will be doubled, thanks to our board match. To stay up to date with how you can get involved in door knocking and future workshops, you can contact Oregon PSR at [email protected].