By Twin Cities Summer of Solutions participant Lee Samuelson
On the second to last day of Lynne Mayo’s permaculture project, we had the special privilege of meeting with Karen Clark, the state representative from the neighborhood.
She did not originally intend to run for office, but has gotten elected every 2 years since 1980. She has been an activist in the anti-war movement, anti-nuclear, and pro-affordable housing movements.
The central theme of the legislation Karen Clark presented was people’s “right to know” about the presence of toxic chemicals.
Rep. Clark helped pass a workers’ right to know bill. As a result of her efforts, material safety data sheets have to be posted in workplaces. Now, numerous states have copied the bill. When union members at a facility were found to be sterile, it motivated grassroots pressure to overcome resistance from the chemical companies.
In addition to workers, families also have a right to know. They had to take Bisphenol A out of baby bottles because it was an endocrine disruptor. She talked a lot about public health and childhood lead poisoning. Even dust from paint in old houses cause irreversible damage. Kids are also in danger from arsenic.
Karen Clark wears more hats than the legislative one. She is a central volunteer for the Women’s Environmental Institute and teaches Holistic Health at St Kate’s. Wearing both her legislative hat and Women’s Environmental Institute hats, she mapped out the toxic sites in Phillips.
What they found was that there was a closed pesticide plant in East Phillips that was releasing chemical pollutants all the way to the aquifer. Residents had been dealing with the cumulative health effects of the lead, mercury and arsenic. These included hypertension, asthma and heart disease.
Soil tests are required when lead and arsenic poisoning are found. Soil tests used to be state subsidized. But, in the name of cutting costs, we have to pay for it now. Our host Lynne Mayo wanted to get the soil from the city compost pile tested and it would cost $82. It is an injustice to ask low-income people to pay for the service. For example, the Hmong farmers needed soil testing but it was prohibitively expensive. Rep. Clark has also done some soil remediation on her 100 year old home.
Rep Clark’s perspectives do not come out of a vacuum but draw a lot from her personal experience. She promoted getting alternative medicine subsidized because she is a cancer survivor. Karen Clark’s parents were sharecroppers for rich but stingy California Landlord, which “taught her a lot about who runs things”.