UNM Law Students Organize “Toxic Tour”

Sacred Alliance for Grassroots Equality (SAGE Council) organizer William “Sonny” Weahkee explains the importance of protecting the sacred sites at Petroglyph National Monument. A collaboration of UNM law student organizations recently organized a "Toxic Tour" for about 30 UNM law and graduate students and faculty to raise awareness of Albuquerque-area communities that are affected by "environmental injustice".

The purpose of the tour was to build connections between law and graduate students and members of these communities, with a long-term goal of inspiring students to consider working in social justice fields and increasing the communities’ access to legal and political resources.

Sites visited on the tour included the South Valley community of Mountain View, which is 73 percent Hispanic and home to 76 junkyards, seven chemical facilities, 35 hazardous waste facilities and a sewage treatment plant. Also on the tour was Pajarito Mesa, whose residents lack access to running water and electricity and are exposed to heavy truck traffic and dust from the Southwest Landfill. The tour concluded at Petroglyph National Monument, a sacred site for many of New Mexico’s indigenous peoples.

The SouthWest Organizing Project, Sacred Alliance for Grassroots Equality, the South Valley Community of Pajarito Mesa and South Valley Partners for Environmental Justice — all grassroots community organizations that have spent many years fighting for social and environmental justice — provided guides at each site.

Environmental justice is the principle that all people, regardless of socio-economic status, race or ethnicity, should be able to live, work and raise their children in a safe, clean, healthy environment.

The student groups that organized the tour were the Environmental Law Society, the Mexican American Law Student Association (MALSA), the Native American Law Students Association, the Association of Public Interest Law, the student chapter of the ACLU, the Student Health Law Association, the Women’s Law Caucus, the Student Bar Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Association.

“As an organization dedicated to supporting the Hispanic community in New Mexico, MALSA supports efforts to promote environmental equality within our communities so that all of our children and families are afforded the opportunities to grow, thrive and pursue higher education without the additional burden of poor community health and quality of life," says Chris Melendrez, a 3L and MALSA member. "The opportunity to drink clean water and breathe clean air is easily taken for granted, but touring areas afflicted with unhealthy conditions serves as a reminder of the work that still must be done in order to bring equal opportunity to all New Mexico communities.”