by Cedar Bushue
(This article originally appeared on Real Change and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
I am a long-term resident of South Park. My family and I have had a home here for three generations. South Park is a small neighborhood in South Seattle, hemmed in by the Duwamish and a couple of highway spurs. It is a residential neighborhood but also home to many industries for Seattle and King County. Our life expectancy here is 8+ years less than Seattle as a whole, according to a 2013 study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. Because it is a small, minority-majority neighborhood without resources, we are home to a transfer station, many homeless encampments, and many industrial areas.
National Products Incorporated (NPI) is a local company that started in someone’s garage but has grown to overtake a great deal of land in the heart of the neighborhood, displacing many neighbors as well as several stately trees that provided wildlife habitat and shade for the human inhabitants. Incidentally, this facility is directly across from one of the main neighborhood parks.
Because South Park is small and its residents don’t make a fuss, companies like NPI can pretty much do whatever they want while the County willingly ignores or happily rubber stamps every expansion plan.
I myself can at least attest to the horrors of having an industrial complex in a residential neighborhood that is not supposed to be there. Every day, forklifts run rampant, like crazed dogs down the public street, and it’s a miracle that no accidents have occurred yet. I am waiting for the day, unfortunately, when there is a tragic accident there, as it is probably the only way we will get attention from the local government. Sadly, the forklifts are just the tip of the local problems with NPI. Next is the toxic fumes that are spewing out of the facilities in South Park, as well as the illegal demolitions of affordable housing and the worker safety violations.
I know firsthand some of the issues because I was a worker at NPI. I worked there for about a year and a half. Every day, I would come home with black chemicals from the powder-coat facility sweating from my skin like sunscreen on a hot day. We also worked daily with the bay doors open so that the toxic burn-off from the chemicals would go into the air outside for people to breathe in. We were not provided with safety equipment — apart from ear plugs — no masks or protective coveralls as we were promised. I was largely unaware of how toxic the sites on Elmgrove and Dallas streets are, as I was desperate for a job. I have disabilities, and so many employers won’t give me an honest look.
When I got laid off due to the COVID quarantine, I finally got the chance to see the company for what it really is. We had such a high turnover rate, with many immigrant employees. When the company saw employees talking to each other in their first language, they would separate them. The company’s safety record was bad enough that it managed to rack up citations and fines even under the business-friendly Trump administration. If you look up NPI’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations, they’re pretty far up there. According to the OSHA website, they were fined over $200,000. (Click on Washington, then scroll until you find the four fines for National Products Inc.)
Another problem with the company is they are demolishing many affordable homes. They have also treated the neighbors with utmost disrespect and kicked out an elderly blind woman — who had lived in her house for over 30 years — during their most recent expansion into the neighborhood. The area where the homes are being demolished is known as the “Sliver on the River.” There are also a few older trees that are in danger of being destroyed along with the homes, many of these being over 100+ years old. Poorer neighborhoods are generally hotter, as they have fewer trees to provide cooling and take carbon dioxide out of the air. Wealthier communities have many more parks and trees.
I am writing this article to raise awareness and to put pressure on NPI and other companies like this. Seattle and King County would be amazing places if everyone had equal access to breathable air and our local governments and industrial companies placed people ahead of profits. Global warming is getting worse, and the few trees that we have in South Park contain a lot of carbon dioxide. What’ll happen if those trees come down? That’ll raise the heat index and destroy precious animal habitat.
It’s time for the people in my community to take more of an interest in leading healthier and cleaner lives and to learn that it is important to stand up for our community. I hope that this will create a chain reaction from which we come to see a healthier city and healthier communities.
Cedar Bushue is the author of a self-help book on living on the autism spectrum called “Depression: My Battle Through Hell and How I Became Stronger” as well as a third-generation resident of South Park. As a Special Olympics athlete, Bushue also made a short film on basketball, which won the Spirit Award in the 2020 Georgetown Super-8 Film Festival. Bushue is a community advocate and a member of the Duwamish River Accountability Group (DRAG).
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