One example of our concerns being ignored is the EPA brownfield site at the Thornton Shopping Center, an old mall in South Thornton. It’s Thornton’s oldest shopping center, and it used to be a nice place. When I was growing up, we would walk there from my house in the summertime. It had a fabric store, a grocery store, a bunch of little shops, and the coolest vintage record store—my son would have loved it if it was still around. But over the years, the businesses closed down. Now it’s in full-blown blight, with a mess of toxic pollution underneath.
When it was purchased for redevelopment in 2005, environmental inspectors found that one of the old dry cleaning businesses had been leaking the chemical tetrachloroethene (also known as “perc”) into the soil. Now the toxic plume is seeping underground into nearby neighborhoods, risking serious health issues. It’s taken 15 years of the community complaining and a lawsuit from the health department for the owner to make any real steps toward cleaning it up. The fact that the city didn’t handle this years ago, to me, is an example of environmental racism. What could have been a hub of local Latino-owned businesses is now deteriorating, and instead we’re faced with the threat of a hazardous chemical.
And the shopping mall isn’t the only environmental disparity in Thornton. The wealthier, whiter suburbs in North Thornton have much more access to open space, whereas in South Thornton we have to fight to even get a pocket park built. Public transportation has gotten worse over the years, with bus driver shortages and service cuts even before the pandemic. The city doesn’t do a great job of getting information out to working-class people, so even when there are new programs or services, they often don’t know about the options.
And instead of sustainable, smart development, we’re seeing gas station after gas station in the south, box store after box store in the north. The whole city is getting built up, in this mismanaged way that doesn’t help people or the environment.