Laura Bickel is a hearing officer with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in Boston. The article below, about her fellowship year with the law school's Center for Law and Social Responsibility, is excerpted from the center's print publication.
Constantly fighting rodents and roaches is no way to live. But neither is living with asthma, poor air quality, mold, and chemical pesticides.
It’s a sad fact that asthma is prevalent in low-income housing communities. And toxic materials—roach bombs or potent, agricultural grade pesticides, used by some residents—can make the disease worse.
A lawyer among scientists
Laura Bickel, a former Center for Law and Social Responsibility fellow who had just passed the bar, was the only lawyer working with the Healthy Public Housing Initiative (HPHI), a collaborative of activists attempting to control vermin in Boston’s public housing facilities through environmentally friendly means. The group studied the problem from various angles, eventually presenting an integrated pest management (IPM) plan to the city.
HPHI included some high-power players—Harvard, Tufts, and Boston University’s schools of health, along with federal, state, and city agencies and several established neighborhood action groups. In a single day, Bickel could find herself talking science with academics, funding with grant-makers, or quality-of-life with community leaders. “The community groups were key,” she remembers. “They knew what would work in real life and what simply wouldn’t.” Bickel used her legal skills to develop a strong case for IPM. Then she helped market the plan to the city.
Reducing toxins means better health
Bickel saw results. The Boston Housing Authority implemented a new IPM policy, and several new public housing projects adopted the chemical-free approach to vermin control.