Every morning, I send my daughters off to school with a kiss on the cheek and a heavy heart. School is supposed to be a safe and supportive environment where children are able to learn without worrying about threats to their health. Unfortunately, this is not the case in my hometown of Shafter, California.
California state laws have allowed oil companies to hydraulically fracture oil wells perilously close to my daughters’ schools, exposing them to dangerous air toxins and putting their health and safety at risk on a daily basis.
Earlier this summer, two weeks after California’s first-ever hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, regulations went into effect, my family filed a lawsuit against Governor Jerry Brown and California Oil and Gas Supervisor Steve Bohlen. We are challenging the regulations for illegally discriminating against students of color by permitting wells that are disproportionately close to the schools they attend.
Fracking is a process used to extract oil from the ground that involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and hundreds of different chemicals into the ground at very high pressures to fracture the rock and release oil.
There are 45 fracked wells within a mile and a half of my daughter’s junior high school. At Sequoia Elementary School, which she attended for years, there are three separate fracked wells within a half-mile of the school, and one that is just 1,200 feet from the school.
Many students at the school suffer from asthma and serious, debilitating illnesses. What is causing this spike in health problems in normally healthy children? Fracking. It exposes our children to unsafe levels of air toxins that can cause a broad variety of serious health complications, including asthma. Students at my daughter’s schools were often forced to stay inside for weeks at a time because of the noxious fumes from the fracking sites. They think it’s strange when people don’t get nosebleeds every day. For too many of California’s Latino public school students, this is normal.
Shortly after fracking began near her school, my youngest daughter began to suffer from unexplainable epileptic attacks. We’ve taken her to numerous doctors and specialists, but no one has been able to tell us the real cause of her illness. As a result of these health complications, her life has been forever changed. My daughter, a girl who loved sports and learning, no longer plays outside. She fears for her health and safety every day because of how close fracking occurs to her school.
This is unacceptable for any Californian, but it is especially disturbing given the fact that fracking overwhelmingly occurs close to schools that serve predominately Latino public school students, the majority of whom live in communities already overburdened by pollution and the resulting negative health impacts. My own town of Shafter is ranked in the top 10% of the most polluted communities in the state – our children can’t afford exposure to these additional toxins.
The children of Shafter are not the only ones who suffer from this injustice. More than 60% of the 61,612 California children who attend school within one mile of a stimulated well are Latino. Statewide, Latino students are over 18% more likely to attend a school within a mile and a half of a stimulated well than non-Latino students.
I’m fighting back and speaking up because this injustice cannot stand. Oil companies should not be able to endanger the health and safety of Latino children across the state. My children’s education means everything to me.
It means a chance at a vibrant, fulfilling and happy future. It is their path to opportunities I never had. My daughters deserve to be able to go to school without fearing for their health and safety. They deserve play outside without the air they breathe poisoning them.
My family has faith that the courts will stand up for our children’s rights, and hold our state accountable for allowing this dangerous activity to interfere with the quality of their education.