Those fighting for a “no build” option for the Loop 202 are doing so for very personal reasons.
Lori Riddle, a Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) member and member of Gila River Alliance for a Clean Environment (GRACE), shared some of her reasoning during a speech at Chandler-Gilbert Community College on Monday. Riddle was invited to speak as part of the college’s Bird on Fire series, featuring speakers that were interviewed for Andrew Ross’s book, “Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City.”
Riddle grew up on a piece of land at the border of Laveen and the Gila River Indian Community that was infected with pesticides that were meant for Phoenix land.
“We noticed the stench and the discoloration of the soil because of the chemicals that had been dumped since the 1930s,” Riddle said. “We attempted to plant, but for the first year we were just sucking up the pesticides that were being dumped.”
The family lived traditionally with no electricity or running water, Riddle said, and they experienced constant sickness and many family members were unable to carry children to full term.
Riddle began to learn about the chemicals her family was exposed to. She does not consider herself a professional or expert, but watching her family get ill prompted her to get involved.
GRACE has fought against a medical waste company operating on GRIC land and the Romic Environmental Technologies Corporation chemical treatment plant. Its latest fight is to keep the Loop 202 extension from being built to keep the pollution away from the reservation. Riddle said the mountains surrounding the reservation would trap pollution on GRIC land.
“There’s so many emissions that come from vehicles,” Riddle said. “Dioxin is one of the main things we are worried about. We’re also worried about particulate matter. Particulate matter can be breathed into your lungs, but the particulate matter is so fine it can go deep down into your lungs and cause heart attacks and strokes.”
Riddle said she’s not afraid of development, she just wants it to be clean and sustainable.
“Hopefully, my words will inspire other people and prompt other people to get involved,” she said. “I’m OK with development, I just want them to think about the people because of what happened to my family.”
To follow GRACE’s fight against the freeway, and to learn more about the pollution, search “No South Mountain Freeway” on Facebook.
A group called Landowners of Gila River is currently working to collect signatures for a new initiative to have the Loop 202 built on privately owned lands on the reservation. Pangea is assisting in facilitating the collection of those signatures. More information on Pangea can be found online at pangealand.com.
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