How does one become an activist? I cannot speak for others, but for me, I became an activist out of pure necessity; to heal my lungs from exposure to hot asphalt roofing tar, and to protect my daughter from the same fate. The first step was in researching the product and finding out who to reach out to with proof that what we were living through was unlivable.
Asphalt is an oil (petroleum) product and comes from the bottom of the barrel, the worst of the worst even before additional chemicals are added to it. When heated to high temperatures in order to make it fluid for roofing applications it emits polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which is a group of over 100 different ambiguous chemicals as well as PM 10 and PM 2.5, which is regulated by the Clean Air Act’s Primary standards which sets limits to protect public health, including the health of “sensitive” populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. Fine particulate pollution is heavily regulated because of its ability to bypass your regular defenses and go deep into the lungs where it can do the most damage and then be absorbed into your bloodstream.
My first round of letters came back with some advice from local non-profits like Organic Sacramento and Pesticide Watch. I was discouraged because I wanted to hand this problem over to someone to fix it for me. After all, I had read about the Precautionary Principal by the US EPA, which states that when there is a question about the safety of a product it shouldn’t be used in order to find out if it’s unsafe or not and that alternative should be used instead. I thought it might be the magic code and by citing it they would be forced to stop the project right away. Boy was I wrong.
Even after I’d made contact with local government like my Supervisor and my Assemblyman, (who were the least help and passed me off to one another rather than help) and then the Sacramento Air Quality District to file a complaint about the fumes I was told in response to my question “how do I make this stop” that I couldn’t stop it because I was just one person. It was at that moment that something clicked for me, it was a moment I’ll never forget because it was the moment I ceased to be a helpless victim and began to give myself permission to stand up for what was right, what we should be entitled to all along: clean air.