Table of Contents
Environmental Injustice, Racism and Justice
“Environmental Racism is any environmental policy, practice, or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages (whether intended or unintended) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color. Low income persons and people of color are exposed to greater environmental risks than white or affluent communities” DR. Robert Bullard, Father of Environment Justice
“Exposure to polluted air, water and soil caused nine million premature deaths in 2015, according to a report published Thursday in The Lancet.
The causes of death vary — cancer, lung disease, heart disease. The report links them to pollution, drawing upon previous studies that show how pollution is tied to a wider range of diseases than previously thought.
Those studies observed populations exposed to pollutants and compared them to people not exposed. The studies have shown that pollution can be an important cause of diseases — many of them potentially fatal — including asthma, cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders, birth defects in children, heart disease, stroke and lung disease.
The nine million figure adds up to 16 percent of all deaths worldwide, killing three times more people than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Pollution is responsible for 15 times more deaths than wars and all other forms of violence.
“No country is unaffected,” the report notes. But 92 percent of those deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
You talk about environmental injustice. Explain the injustice of pollution.
One blatant example is asbestos. About two million tons of new asbestos is produced every year. [Asbestos is outlawed in most of the developed world because of the high risk of lung cancer.] Virtually all of that goes to the world’s poorest countries that have poor or no regulations against it. [According to reports it is used in the production of building materials, among other products.] It’s going to continue to cause epidemics of cancer in poor counties. Another example is pesticides. About 20 percent of U.S. pesticide production is of pesticides not allowed in this country because of known health risks. So we export it to poor countries.
Then there is the international transfer of materials like old computers, cell phones, TVs, refrigerators from rich countries to the developing world. People break them up and try to extract valuable things like gold or copper, and pollutants get into the soil. Or lead batteries end up in developing countries and contaminate communities.”
Environmental Racism is the New Jim Crow
Environmental Racism: How Did We Get Here?
Environmental Racism Explained
Center for American Progress: 5 Things to Know About Communities of Color and Environmental Justice
- Communities of color have higher exposure rates to air pollution than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts. A Yale University study found that non-Hispanic whites had the lowest exposure rates for 11 of the 14 pollutants monitored in the study. Meanwhile, Hispanics had the highest exposure rates for 10 out of the 14 pollutants, and African Americans had higher exposure rates than whites for 13 out of the 14 pollutants. Some of the pollutants studied have been connected to asthma, cardiovascular issues, lung disease, and cancer. For example, a case study of The Bronx, New York, found that individuals who lived close to noxious industrial facilities and waste sites were 66 percent more likely to be hospitalized for asthma. Significantly, these same individuals were 13 percent more likely to be people of color.
- Landfills, hazardous waste sites, and other industrial facilities are most often located in communities of color. A report titled “Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty” reviewed data collected over a 20-year time period and found that more than half of the people who live within 1.86 miles of toxic waste facilities in the United States are people of color. A report by the Center for Effective Government found that people of color are nearly twice as likely as white residents to live within a fenceline zone of an industrial facility. These facilities contribute to air pollution, safety issues, and health concerns.
- Lead poisoning disproportionately affects children of color. Children of color who live in urban areas are at the highest risk for lead poisoning caused by lead-based paint. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that 11.2 percent of African American children and 4.0 percent of Mexican-American children are poisoned by lead, compared with 2.3 percent of white children. Lead poisoning can result in a wide range of health problems, such as anemia, seizures, and brain development issues. Even with the restrictions on lead paint usage, children of color who live in low-income communities continue to suffer the most. For example, a 2004 report revealed that African American children and Hispanic children in Chicago were 12 times and 5 times more likely to be poisoned, respectively, than white children.
- Climate change disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color. The effects of climate change, such as extreme weather conditions, have devastating consequences for communities of color and low-income communities. These extreme weather events can displace residents and even cause death. In the aftermath of such disasters, efforts of city officials to rebuild communities of color and low-income communities are often inadequate compared to efforts to rebuild higher-income and white communities. Perhaps the most powerful example of this inequity is the communities of color in New Orleans that were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Black homeowners received $8,000 less in government aid than white homeowners due to disparities in housing values. In 2013, about 80 percent of the mostly black residents of the city’s Lower 9th Ward had not returned to their community due to inadequate building efforts.
- Water contamination plagues low-income areas and communities of color across the nation. Studies have documented limited access to clean water in low-income communities of color. Water contamination has largely affected children of color who live in rural areas, indigenous communities, and migrant farmworker communities. Contaminated water can cause an abundance of health-related issues, particularly for young children. Depending on the contaminant, possible health problems can include waterborne diseases, blood disorders, and cancer. Indigenous people of the Navajo Nation, for example, have suffered for years from water contamination due in part to the residual effects of uranium mining in the region during the 1950s, as well as the recent Gold King Mine toxic spill. In St. Joseph, Louisiana, residents are forced to live on water that is tinted brown and yellow but that the state continues to claim is safe to drink. African Americans make up three-quarters of the town’s population and nearly 40 percent of the residents live in poverty.
“Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies” DR. Robert Bullard, Father of Environment Justice
Environmental Justice Explained
“Despite significant improvements in environmental protection over the past several decades, millions of Americans continue to live in unsafe and unhealthy physical environments (Institute of Medicine, 1999). Many economically impoverished communities and their inhabitants are exposed to greater health hazards in their homes, on their jobs, and in their neighborhoods when compared to their more affluent counterparts (Bullard, 1994a, 1994b; Bryant, 1995; Bryant & Mohai, 1992; Calloway & Decker, 1997; Collin & Collin, 1998; U.S. EPA, 1992b).
From New York to Los Angeles, grassroots community resistance has emerged in response to practices, policies, and conditions that residents have judged to be unjust, unfair, and illegal. Some of these conditions include (1) unequal enforcement of environmental, civil rights, and public health laws; (2) differential exposure of some populations to harmful chemicals, pesticides, and other toxins in the home, school, neighborhood, and workplace; (3) faulty assumptions in calculating, assessing, and managing risks; (4) discriminatory zoning and land use practices; and (5) exclusionary practices that prevent some individuals and groups from participation in decision making or limit the extent of their participation (Bullard, 1993b; C. Lee, 1992).
Environmental justice is defined as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no group of people, including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies (U.S. EPA, 1998).
During its 30-year history, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not always recognized that many government and industry practices (whether intended or unintended) have an adverse impact on poor people and people of color. Growing grassroots community resistance emerged in response to practices, policies, and conditions that residents judged to be unjust, unfair, and illegal. The EPA is mandated to enforce the nation’s environmental laws and regulations equally across the board. It is required to protect all Americans, not just individuals or groups who can afford lawyers, lobbyists, and experts. Environmental protection is a right, not a privilege reserved for a few who can “vote with their feet” and escape or fend off environmental stressors.
The current environmental protection apparatus manages, regulates, and distributes risks (Bullard, 1996). The dominant environmental protection paradigm institutionalizes unequal enforcement; trades human health for profit; places the burden of proof on the “victims” and not the polluting industry; legitimates human exposure to harmful chemicals, pesticides, and hazardous substances; promotes “risky” technologies; exploits the vulnerability of economically and politically disenfranchised communities; subsidizes ecological destruction; creates an industry around risk assessment and risk management; delays cleanup actions; and fails to develop pollution prevention as the overarching and dominant strategy (Austin & Schill, 1991; Bullard, 1992, 1993c)…
…The environmental protection apparatus in the United States does not provide equal protection for all communities. The environmental justice movement emerged in response to environmental inequities, threats to public health, unequal protection, differential enforcement, and disparate treatment received by the poor and people of color. The movement redefined environmental protection as a basic right. It also emphasized pollution prevention, waste minimization, and cleaner production techniques as strategies for achieving environmental justice for all Americans without
regard to race, color, national origin, or income. The poisoning of African Americans in
Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” Native Americans on reservations, and Mexicans in the border towns all have their roots in the same economic system, a system characterized by economic exploitation, racial oppression, and devaluation of human life and the natural environment. Both race and class factors place low-income and people of-color communities at special risk. Although environmental and civil rights laws have been on the books for more than 3 decades, all communities have not received the same benefits from their application, implementation, and enforcement.
Unequal political power arrangements also have allowed poisons of the rich to be offered as short-term economic remedies for poverty. There is little or no correlation between proximity of industrial plants in communities of color and the employment opportunities of nearby residents. Having industrial facilities in one’s community does not automatically translate into jobs for nearby residents. Many industrial plants are located at the fence line with the communities. Some are so close that local residents could walk to work. More often than not, communities of color are stuck with the pollution and poverty, while other people commute in for the industrial jobs.
Similarly, tax breaks and corporate welfare programs have produced few new jobs by polluting firms. However, state-sponsored pollution and lax enforcement have allowed many communities of color and poor communities to become the dumping grounds. Louisiana is the poster child for corporate welfare. The state is mired in both poverty and pollution. It is no wonder that Louisiana’s petrochemical corridor, the 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans dubbed “Cancer Alley,” has become a hotbed for environmental justice activity.
The environmental justice movement has set out clear goals of eliminating unequal enforcement of environmental, civil rights, and public health laws; differential exposure of some populations to harmful chemicals, pesticides, and other toxins in the home, school, neighborhood, and workplace; faulty assumptions in calculating, assessing, and managing risks; discriminatory zoning and land use practices; and exclusionary policies and practices that limit some individuals and groups from participation in decision making. Many of these problems could be eliminated if existing environmental, health, housing, and civil rights laws were vigorously enforced in a nondiscriminatory way.
The call for environmental and economic justice does not stop at the U.S. borders but extends to communities and nations that are threatened by the export of hazardous wastes, toxic products, and “dirty” industries. Much of the world does not get to share in the benefits of the United States’ high standard of living. From energy consumption to the production and export of tobacco, pesticides, and other chemicals, more and more of the world’s peoples are sharing the health and environmental burden of America’s wasteful throwaway culture. Hazardous wastes and “dirty” industries have followed the path of least resistance. Poor people and poor nations are given a false choice of “no jobs and no development” versus “risky, low-paying jobs and pollution.”
Industries and governments (including the military) have often exploited the economic vulnerability of poor communities, poor states, poor nations, and poor regions for their unsound and “risky” operations. Environmental justice leaders are demanding that no community or nation, rich or poor, urban or suburban, Black or White, be allowed to become a “sacrifice zone” or dumping grounds. They are also pressing governments to live up to their mandate of protecting public health and the environment.”
A Brief History of Environmental Justice
Examples of Environmental Injustice/Racism
North Carolina Pig Farming Industry
In North Carolina there are estimated 10 million pigs in the farming industry creating waste equivalent to 100 million humans. There are no septic systems for these farms. They are stored in giant lagoons that are periodically emptied by spraying the sewage over fields. These lagoons often pollute groundwater and the sprays often drift to nearby poor minority communities. Nearby residents complain that it’s literally raining hog waste when the sprays hit the right wind. People living near these lagoons experience horrible smells daily and health problems such as asthma, diarrhea, eye irritation, depression, blood pressure increases, neurological issues, lung issues, cancer and other health problems. The local residents are left with little recourse.
According to a 2017 Observer article:
“An analysis conducted by WaterKeeper Alliance found that out of 2,246 pig concentrated animal feeding operations in the state, only 12 have been required to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act. The rest operate under lax state permit guidelines. A 2014 study conducted by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that black people are 1.54 times more likely to reside near these hog operations in North Carolina than white people, Hispanics are 1.39 times more likely, and Native Americans are 2.18 times more likely.”
NY Times: North Carolina’s Noxious Pig Farms
Flint, Michigan is located 70 miles north of Detroit, over 41% of its 91,830 residents live below the poverty line, and the city is approximately 56.6% African American. Flint used to have a robust economy created primarily by jobs from the country’s largest General Motor’s (GM) plant. However, GM downsized the plant in the early ’80s. By 2011, Flint was in a financial deficit of $25 million and the state of Michigan took over their budget. The officials who took over used some of the money allocated to the city’s water infrastructure, and used it to cover this deficit even though this caused the water infrastructure budget to be under funded by $9 million. To reduce this funding deficiency, in 2014 Flint switched their water source from the treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water from Lake Huron to the Flint River, while they constructed a new pipeline to Lake Huron. Flint used the river before 1967 and switched to Lake Huron after this date.
The Flint River water had not been treated with an anti-corrosive agent to save funding, and was found to be 19 times more corrosive than water in Detroit. Thus, lead from the aging pipes began to leak into the water supply. Soon after the switch, residents said the water started to look, smell and taste funny. Tests in 2015 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Virginia Tech indicated dangerous levels of lead in the water at residents’ homes.
According to a 2017 Business Insider article:
- The EPA’s limit for lead in water is 15 parts per billion (ppb). Some of the highest levels of lead in samples of Flint’s water were at 13,000 ppb.
- For 18 months Flint city officials knew about the potentially toxic water residents were using, but did no actions, and often told residents the water was safe to drink.
- Approximately 9000 children under the age of 6 were exposed to toxic levels of lead.
- After being taken to court by the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the American Civil Liberties Union and a Flint resident, the state of Michigan is ordered to set aside $97 million over the next three years to replace the lead-ridden water lines that currently service at least 18,000 homes in beleaguered Flint.
- (Responsible Consumer Opinion) This action took over 2 years and dozens of lawsuits to force the state of Michigan to do what they probably would of done normally if the city was predominately white and more affluent.
The health effects of lead exposure are devastating and include: impaired cognition, behavioral and hearing problems in children, and a wide range of neurological and cardiological effects in growing fetuses. The CDC states that lead can affect nearly every bodily system in every stage of life, yet frequently goes unrecognized as poisonings are often symptomless until very serious and often irreparable damage has occurred.
Flint and Environmental Racism
Flint Michigan Water Crisis: Environmental Racism
Is your drinking water polluted? Plug in your ZIP code and find out
The Environmental Working Group, an organization specializing in research and advocacy related to toxic chemicals, agriculture subsidies, public land and corporate accountability, has created a database that pulls about 30 million state, local and federal records on water pollution from 2010 to 2015.
Since August of 2016, thousands of Native Americans and allies from across the country have converged to camp in and around the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota to oppose the construction of the multi–billion dollar Dakota Access oil pipeline. The pipeline, which would transfer crude oil to existing pipelines in Illinois, would come within a half-mile of the reservation and cross culturally significant ancestral sites. It would also run under the Missouri River, an important water source for the Standing Rock Sioux, which could be damaged if the pipeline were to erupt.
Out of fears of contamination and loss of control of their main water supply, Standing Rock Sioux began to organize a protest against the pipeline. Since the protests have started, pipeline security personnel have attacked peaceful protesters with clubs, dogs, tasers, pepper spray, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and a water truck spraying protestors in below freezing temperatures giving 167 people hypothermia.
After a federal judge in September 2016 rejected the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an injunction against the U.S. government over the Dakota Access pipeline, the Army, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior responded with a joint announcement on December 4, denying an easement for construction until an environmental impact assessment was conducted by the Army Corps.
This has not stopped Dakota Access from continuing construction of the pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Coalition plans to continue to protest until the pipeline is officially and permanently stopped.
In January 2017 President Trump issued an Executive Order instructing the Department of Homeland Security to commence immediate construction of a 1,900-mile long wall along the southern border with Mexico using existing federal funds to get it started.
On Feb 22nd the North Dakota State Police, with the help of the National Guard and Wisconsin state police, began evicting protesters from the main protest camps. Below is a video of the final Days of the Oceti Sakowin camp, near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, ground zero of the movement to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
The pipeline was completed by April 2017 and its first oil was delivered on May 14, 2017.
Recent Oil Spills Related/Similar to the Dakota Access Pipeline
Cancer Alley, Louisiana
“The town’s (St James, Louisiana) location on the Mississippi river and accessibility to cheap oil and gas feedstock make St James what Louisiana Economic Development, a state agency, described to the Guardian as an “ideal” site for large industrial projects. About 10 years ago, the town was rezoned from residential to industrial, paving the way for the highly concentrated development seen today. Fifteen large industrial sites – mainly oil storage facilities, pipelines and petrochemical plants – now fill the 13-mile stretch of road that defines the town of St James, also known as the fifth ward of St James parish.
Yet residents here say they’ve seen little economic benefit – either in jobs or tax revenues – from the industry that has taken over the town. Instead, they say, they’ve been saddled with a myriad of health issues, medical bills and environmental degradation.
“They put [the plants] here and the other parishes are the ones that get the jobs,” claimed Joseph. “We’re like the lamb that was sacrificed.”
The rise of the oil and petrochemical industry at their doorstep has thrust residents into a financial trap. They can’t afford to leave without selling their houses, but the predominance of industrial plants and pipelines has slashed home values and scared off buyers. Many here see only one ticket out: a residential buyout by industrial companies operating here…
…Geraldine Mayho is one of those residents determined not to die in St James. A large suitcase and stack of boxes fill one corner of her modest home, which is bordered on both sides by the huge cylindrical oil storage tanks that dominate the local landscape. She walks through the house to point out the crooked doorways and window frames and cracked walls – an effect of the near constant industrial activity at nearby loading docks that has shifted the house foundation.
She says she can’t afford to rent an apartment on her monthly pension of about $700 from her days as a janitor at the local high school. Her best option is to move in with her grandchildren in Mobile, Alabama, until someone – local industry, she hopes –compensates her for her home.
“Whether or not they buy me out, I’ve got to get out of here,” said Mayho. “I’m so tired of being sick.”
She says that since moving here in 1965, when the area was still mostly agricultural, she has suffered a range of ailments, from headaches to stomachaches and heart problems, that doctors could never fully explain. But several years ago, she says one doctor gave her a letter stating her conditions were the result of exposure to “toxic substances”.
Her family’s health, too, has been shaped by the town’s air pollution. She rattles off a list of six female relatives, all residents, recently diagnosed with or deceased from breast cancer. One son has had a persistent cough; another is infertile. Her daughter died in her 30s, but she says doctors couldn’t identify the exact cause.
“She was sick like I was sick,” Mayho said. Asked if she thought her daughter’s death had been caused by industrial pollution, she fought back tears: “I know it was.”
The Louisiana Tumor Registry, a state cancer tracker, only releases data on a regional level, so localized cancer rates are hard to come by. But many residents who speak to the Guardian seem to have some ailment or an affected family member, from cancer to asthma to multiple sclerosis and skin conditions, and they all trace it back to the air pollution from the chemical plants that surround them…
…In this largely African American town that grew out of former slave plantations, people are concerned with a certain kind of environmental injustice. Two environmental groups have pushed the EPA to declare civil rights violations because the cumulative air pollution of existing and new plants disproportionately impacts a community of color.”
Why This Town Is Dying From Cancer | AJ+
The southern United States has become a “sacrifice zone” for the rest of the nation’s toxic waste (Schueler, 1992, p. 45). A colonial mentality exists in Dixie through which local government and big business take advantage of people who are both politically and economically powerless. The region is stuck with a unique legacy: the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and White resistance to equal justice for all. This legacy has also affected race relations and the region’s ecology. The South is characterized by “look-the-other-way environmental policies and giveaway tax breaks” and as a place where “political bosses encourage outsiders to buy the region’s human and natural resources at bargain prices”
(Schueler, 1992, pp. 46–47). Lax enforcement of environmental regulations has left the region’s air, water, and land the most industry-befouled in the United States.
Toxic waste discharge and industrial pollution are correlated with poorer economic conditions. In 1992, the Institute for Southern Studies’ “Green Index” ranked Louisiana 49th out of 50 states in overall environmental quality. Louisiana is not a rich state by any measure. It ranks 45th in the nation in spending on elementary and secondary education, for example.
Ascension Parish typifies the toxic “sacrifice zone” model. In two parish towns of Geismar and St. Gabriel, 18 petrochemical plants are crammed into a 9.5-square-mile area. In Geismar, Borden Chemicals has released harmful chemicals into the environment that are health hazardous to the local residents, including ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride monomer, hydrogen chloride, and hydrochloric acid (Barlett & Steele, 1998, p. 72).
Borden Chemicals has a long track record of contaminating the air, land, and water in Geismar. In March 1997, the company paid a fine of $3.5 million—the single largest in Louisiana history—for storing hazardous waste, sludges, and solid wastes illegally; failing to install containment systems; burning hazardous waste without a permit; neglecting to report the release of hazardous chemicals into the air; contaminating groundwater beneath the plant site (thereby threatening an aquifer that provides drinking water for residents of Louisiana and Texas); and shipping toxic waste laced with mercury to South Africa without notifying the EPA, as required by law (Barlett & Steele, 1998).
Louisiana could actually improve its general welfare by enacting and enforcing regulations to protect the environment (Templet, 1995). However, Louisiana
citizens subsidize corporate welfare with their health and the environment (Barlett
& Steele, 1998). A growing body of evidence shows that environmental regulations do not kill jobs. On the contrary, the data indicate that “states with lower pollution levels and better environmental policies generally have more jobs, better socioeconomic conditions and are more attractive to new business” (Templet, 1995, p. 37). Nevertheless, some states subsidize polluting industries in the return for a few jobs (Barlett & Steele, 1998). States argue that tax breaks help create jobs.However, the few jobs that are created come at a high cost to Louisiana taxpayers and the environment.
Nowhere is the polluter-welfare scenario more prevalent than in Louisiana. Corporations routinely pollute the air, ground, and drinking water while being subsidized by tax breaks from the state. The state is a leader in doling out corporate welfare to polluters (see Table 1). In the 1990s, the state wiped off the books $3.1 billion in property taxes owed by polluting companies. The state’s top five worst polluters received $111 million dollars over the past decade (Barlett & Steele, 1998). A breakdown of the chemical releases and tax breaks includes
• Cytec Industries (24.1 million pounds of releases/$19 million tax
• IMC-Agrico Co. (12.8 million pounds/$15 million)
• Rubicon, Inc. (8.4 million pounds/$20 million)
• Monsanto Co. (7.7 million pounds/$45 million)
• Angus Chemical Co. (6.3 million pounds/$12 million)
Not only is subsidizing polluters bad business, but it does not make environmental sense. For example, nearly three-fourths of Louisiana’s population—more than 3 million people—get their drinking water from underground aquifers. Dozens of the aquifers are threatened by contamination from polluting industries (O’Byrne & Schleifstein, 1991). The Lower Mississippi River Industrial Corridor has over 125 companies that manufacture a range of products, including fertilizers, gasoline, paints, and plastics. This corridor has been dubbed “Cancer Alley” by environmentalists and local residents (Beasley, 1990a, 1990b; Bullard, 1994a; Motavalli, 1998)
Radioactive Colonialism and Native Lands
Scientific American: Reservations about Toxic Waste: Native American Tribes Encouraged to Turn Down Lucrative Hazardous Disposal Deals
“Native tribes across the American West have been and continue to be subjected to significant amounts of radioactive and otherwise hazardous waste as a result of living near nuclear test sites, uranium mines, power plants and toxic waste dumps.
And in some cases tribes are actually hosting hazardous waste on their sovereign reservations—which are not subject to the same environmental and health standards as U.S. land—in order to generate revenues. Native American advocates argue that siting such waste on or near reservations is an “environmental justice” problem, given that twice as many Native families live below the poverty line than other sectors of U.S. society and often have few if any options for generating income.
“In the quest to dispose of nuclear waste, the government and private companies have disregarded and broken treaties, blurred the definition of Native American sovereignty, and directly engaged in a form of economic racism akin to bribery,” says Bayley Lopez of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He cites example after example of the government and private companies taking advantage of the “overwhelming poverty on native reservations by offering them millions of dollars to host nuclear waste storage sites.
The issue came to a head—and Native advocates hope a turning point—in 2007 when public pressure forced the Skull Valley band of Utah’s Goshute tribe to forego plans to offer their land, which is already tucked between a military test site, a chemical weapons depot and a toxic magnesium production facility, for storing spent nuclear fuel above ground. The facility would have been a key link in the chain of getting nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, the U.S. government’s proposed permanent storage facility.”
“This is a serious problem. Americans waste over 250 million tons of resources every year. We’re the largest generator of waste globally. Roughly 33 million tons of those resources are burned, 136 million tons are buried under ground, and only 89 million tons are recycled or composted. Meanwhile, the vulnerable communities and environments on the receiving end of that trash disposal process are negatively impacted on a daily basis.
The Public Interest Law Center: Environmental Racism in Chester
“Chester, Pennsylvania is a small city with a low-income African American population, located in the affluent, mostly white Delaware County – and it is the site of an unprecedented cluster of industrial polluting facilities. Chester has been home to a trash incinerator that handled waste from the entire county, a sewage treatment plant that still receives the entire county’s sewage, and numerous other waste processing plants, oil refineries, and industrial polluters. Essentially, the low-income, black community of Chester has been forced to live amidst the waste of the more affluent, white towns and cities around it.”
Energy Justice Network: When Zero Waste is Environmental Racism
“My name is Kaya Banton and I have been a resident of Chester, Pennsylvania all of my life. Chester is a small city right outside of Philadelphia known as one of the worst cases of environmental racism.
There are a number of polluting facilities in and surrounding Chester. The most famous is Covanta, the nation’s largest waste incinerator, burning 3,510 tons of trash per day. Though Covanta is the largest incinerator in the country, they have the fewest pollution controls of any incinerator in the nation. Within a mile of Covanta, 80% of the population is black. Only 1.5% of waste being burned at Covanta comes from Chester. The rest comes from wealthy suburban areas of Delaware County, Philadelphia, and New York.
Covanta is the largest polluter in Chester and one of the largest in all of eastern Pennsylvania. Due to the pollutants from Covanta and other industries, many people in Chester have cancer, asthma, and other horrific diseases. I know entire families that have asthma or cancer. Both my mother and my little sister developed chronic asthma after moving to Chester. The childhood asthma hospitalization rate in Chester is three times the state average.
With research and organizing support from Energy Justice Network last summer, community members went door to door last year and packed city hall twice, winning a unanimous vote of the planning commission, recommending that city council shoot down plans for the rail box building to receive New York City’s steel trash containers. Unfortunately, city council voted in favor of Covanta because they did not want to get sued. Covanta was permitted to bring New York’s trash by rail, which will put them at full capacity. A big concern from the council was the amount of trash trucks coming through the city. Covanta said that since the trash will be coming by rail, the truck traffic will be decreased majorly, but even though residents made it clear that the trash containers will be taken through Chester by train to Wilmington, Delaware then back into Chester by truck. This will not decrease truck traffic, but will only increase pollution by adding train traffic.
I did some research and found out that New York’s zero waste plan is actually a “zero waste to landfill” plan that locked in 20 to 30 years of burning waste in Chester, making the impacts of my city invisible while New York gets the benefit of looking green. I was incredibly confused as to how New York City environmental justice groups could celebrate the announcement of a zero waste plan that allowed waste to be burned in Chester.”
Energy Justice Network Power Plant Fact Sheet
Bhopal, India Gas Disaster
The Atlantic: Bhopal: The World’s Worst Industrial Disaster, 30 Years Later
“Thirty years ago, on the night of December 2, 1984, an accident at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, released at least 30 tons of a highly toxic gas called methyl isocyanate, as well as a number of other poisonous gases. The pesticide plant was surrounded by shanty towns, leading to more than 600,000 people being exposed to the deadly gas cloud that night. The gases stayed low to the ground, causing victims throats and eyes to burn, inducing nausea, and many deaths. Estimates of the death toll vary from as few as 3,800 to as many as 16,000, but government figures now refer to an estimate of 15,000 killed over the years.
Toxic material remains, and 30 years later, many of those who were exposed to the gas have given birth to physically and mentally disabled children. For decades, survivors have been fighting to have the site cleaned up, but they say the efforts were slowed when Michigan-based Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide in 2001. Human rights groups say that thousands of tons of hazardous waste remain buried underground, and the government has conceded the area is contaminated.”
“Approximately 520,000 people were exposed to the toxic chemical immediately after the leak. Within the first 3 days after the leak an estimated 8,000 people living within the vicinity of the plant died from exposure to the methyl isocyanate.
Some people survived the initial leak from the factory, but due to improper care and improper diagnoses many have died. As a consequence of improper diagnoses, treatment may have been ineffective and this was precipitated by Union Carbide refusing to release all the details regarding the leaked gases and lying about certain important information. The delay in supplying medical aid to the victims of the chemical leak made the situation for the survivors even worse. Many today are still experiencing the negative health impacts of the methyl isocyanate leak, such as lung fibrosis, impaired vision, tuberculosis, neurological disorders, severe body pains, and many more medical conditions.
The operations and maintenance of the factory in Bhopal contributed to the hazardous chemical leak. The storage of huge volumes of methyl isocyanate in a densely inhabited area, was in contravention with company policies strictly practiced in other plants. The company ignored protests that they were holding too much of the dangerous chemical for one plant and built large tanks to hold it in a crowded community. Methyl isocyanate must be stored at extremely low temperatures, but the company cut expenses to the air conditioning system leading to less than optimal conditions for the chemical. Union Carbide India Limited never created disaster management plans for the surrounding community around the factory in the event of a leak or spill. State authorities were in the pocket of the company and therefore did not pay attention to company practices or implementation of the law. The company also cut down on preventative maintenance staff to save money. The company cut corners in order to save some money, creating conditions for the leak to occur.”
There has never been any meaningful clean up and thousands of families are exposed to the abandoned toxic waste through their drinking water. The outstanding criminal charges have never been answered and Union Carbide, now a part of Dow Chemical, simply refuses to attend the Bhopal courts. Dow has been summonsed on five occasions to explain Union Carbide’s whereabouts but also refuses to attend the court. It’s a shocking indictment of the way multinational chemical companies conduct their business.
Please visit: www.bhopal.org for more info on the disaster and the current situation in Bhopal.
“Electronics companies are constantly coming out with new technologies, rendering old models obsolete. These older technologies can be sent to recycling depots for proper dismantling; however, there is a large component of technology that gets shipped overseas to less developed countries for inexpensive, labour-intensive recycling. From the mid-1990s until about 2001, it is estimated that some 50 to 80 percent of the electronics collected for recycling in the western half of the United States was being exported for dismantling overseas, predominantly to China and Southeast Asia. This scrap processing is quite profitable due to an abundant workforce and cheap labour. Proper disposal and recycling of these electronics is difficult, labour-intensive, and therefore expensive. As a result, large quantities of the waste are shipped overseas to places where the labour is cheap and the environmental laws are lax.
These electronics produce vast amounts of waste when not properly dismantled or disposed of. E-waste disposal sites, such as one in Guiyu, China, are also subjects of controversy. In the town heaps of discarded computer parts rise near the riverbanks and their toxic substances, such as cadmium, copper, lead, PBDEs, and numerous persistent organic compounds, seep into and poison the local water supply. Water samples taken by the Basel Action Network in 2001 from the Lianjiang River contained lead levels 190 times higher than WHO safety standards. After the e-waste began arriving the groundwater in Guiyu became undrinkable. As a consequence, the villages must get their drinking water trucked in, which is quite expensive causing people to still use the contaminated water for some activities. These chemicals and toxins bioaccumulate in fatty tissue and biomagnify up the food chain. In Guiyu, labourers with no protective clothing regularly burn plastics and circuit boards from old computers. They pour acid on electronic parts to extract silver and gold, and crush cathode ray tubes from computer monitors to remove other valuable metals, such as lead. Nearly 80 percent of children in the e-waste hub of Guiyu, China, suffer from lead poisoning, according to recent reports.
Much of the area of Guiyu, before the electronic waste, was agriculturally based with many small farmers making their living. Farming has been abandoned for more lucrative work in scrap electronics. “According to the Western press and both Chinese university and NGO researchers, conditions in these workers’ rural villages are so poor that even the primitive electronic scrap industry in Guiyu offers an improvement in income”. There were more incentives for the residents of Guiyu to move from farming to electronics dismantling. The citizens of Guiyu more than likely did not have significant political influence or the capital to stop electronic waste coming into the area.”
“A rising mountain of hazardous electronic waste is putting workers in developing countries and the environment at risk. Some of the disused computers, cellphones, televisions and other products are locally generated, but the developed world – especially the U.S. – is responsible for sending many of the items.
The developed world has in the past exported an estimated 23 percent of its electronic waste to seven developing countries, according to a study published in June by the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The growing demand for electronics, and the increasingly short life spans of these devices, means e-waste isn’t going anywhere. But the problem is complex, and solutions will not come quickly – or easily.
The average American household owns more than 20 electronic products, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Several states have banned disposing of such products in the same way as conventional trash, and the EPA strongly encourages recycling. But when a person recycles a television, for instance, there’s a chance it could end up exported to a country like China, India or Nigeria, where workers at informal recycling operations often use crude, hazardous techniques to extract valuable metals from the equipment and then burn what’s left.
Recycling electronics, it’s been argued, could help developing nations transcend the “digital divide,” as well as grow information and communications technologies in places that need to catch up. Even if devices don’t work, some say recycling could provide spare parts and valuable metals like copper. But the processes to get those valuable materials often entail exposure to heavy metals like lead and mercury…
…E-waste is exported largely for the same reason manufacturing jobs have been sent overseas: lower labor costs and fewer regulatory burdens. Handling e-recycling domestically could ensure safer procedures for the environment and workers but would come at a price, as it often costs more to process these devices than the materials are worth.
Jim Puckett, executive director of the nonprofit Basel Action Network, said techniques and worker demographics vary across each country. In Ghana, Puckett said he has seen mostly orphans – anywhere from 12 to 20 years old – working in a slum, burning discarded electronics and releasing toxic fumes into the air. In Nigeria, Puckett watched workers of all ages throw electronics into dumps and burn them. They try to repair and recycle the equipment when possible, but many pieces are irreparable.
In China, Puckett said he saw children exposed to hazardous substances.
“Children are digging in the ash from the burned plastics,” Puckett said. “They’re breathing in the fumes. Sometimes it happens indoors when they cook the circuit boards – children are breathing all this in.”
A recent study from Toxics Link – a nongovernmental organization that focuses on struggles with toxic materials, both at the global and local level – reported soil and water contamination in two regions in Delhi, India, that engage in e-recycling.
The soil in both Loni and Mandoli contains high levels of heavy metals and other contaminants. Soil samples from both regions contained lead, with the highest level in Loni coming in at almost 147 times the control sample. Drinking water has also been contaminated, the study found, with observable amounts of toxic metals. One sample in each region even contained mercury – 710 times the Indian standard limit in Mandoli, and about 20 times the limit in Loni.
India is second only to China in e-recycling volume, followed by Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin and Liberia, according to the Environmental Science and Technology study, which used 2005 as its reference year.
Exporting of e-waste to developing countries is prohibited in the European Union, but the practice remains legal in the U.S. E-waste still makes it out of the EU illegally, but those doing it can be prosecuted, unlike in America, Puckett said. To legally ship from the EU, Puckett said equipment must first be tested and proven functional.”
Below are Responsible Consumer links to several other Environmental Injustices
Opposition to Environmental Justice
GOP Selling Out The Environmental
PBS Frontline: War on the EPA
Silencing Environmental Activists
National Geographic: 200 Environmentalists Were Murdered Last Year
“At least 200 people were murdered last year for protecting the land, water, and wildlife in their communities, including five park rangers in Africa’s Virunga National Park, which is home to some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas.
These rarely prosecuted murders are being documented in more countries than ever before—24 countries this year compared to 16 in 2015. Together with criminalizing and aggressively prosecuting protestors, the result is suppression of environmentalists, a new report by the nonprofit group Global Witness argues…
…Protestors are often attacked for being anti-growth or anti-jobs, when all many of them want is environmentally sustainable jobs and businesses that don’t pollute their air or water, said Kyte. Countries with pro-business governments are where murders of protestors were most common. Killings of forest defenders in Brazil have become more brazen under the new business-friendly Michel Temer government, he said. The Global Witness report found protections for local and indigenous peoples had been rolled back and documented 49 people who were murdered by loggers and large landowners in the Amazon last year.
“At least 185 environmental activists were killed last year, the highest annual death toll on record and close to a 60% increase on the previous year, according to a UK-based watchdog.
Global Witness documented lethal attacks across 16 countries. Brazil was worst hit with 50 deaths, many of them killings of campaigners who were trying to combat illegal logging in the Amazon. The Philippines was second with 33.
Colombia had 26 fatal attacks; Peru, 12; Nicaragua, 12; and Democratic Republic of Congo had 11.
“As demand for products like minerals, timber and palm oil continues, governments, companies and criminal gangs are seizing land in defiance of the people who live on it,” said Billy Kyte, a senior campaigner for Global Witness and author of the report.
“Communities that take a stand are increasingly finding themselves in the firing line of companies’ private security, state forces and a thriving market for contract killers. For every killing we document, many others go unreported. Governments must urgently intervene to stop this spiraling violence.”
The most deadly industry to protest against was mining, with 42 deaths in 2015 related to anti-mining activities. Agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging were also key drivers of violence, Global Witness found, and many of the murders occurred in remote villages deep within rainforests.
In Brazil, thousands of illegal logging camps have been set up and are cutting down valuable hardwoods like mahogany, ebony and teak.
The report said criminal gangs terrorise local populations at the behest of “timber companies and the officials they have corrupted”.
It is estimated that 80% of timber from Brazil is illegal and accounts for 25% of illegal wood on global markets. Much of this is being sold on to buyers in the UK, US, Europe and China, and is contributing to one of the world’s highest rates of forest loss, the report said.”
Environmental Justice Movement
Overcoming Sacrifice Zones in Harlem
“There’s nothing like the giant oil companies to provide us all with lessons about power and prejudice.
The climate crisis offers a lens to understand many of the inherent injustices on this planet: There’s an almost perfect inverse relationship between how much of the problem you caused and how much of the pain you’re feeling. Furthermore, it offers the best chance to actually right some of these wrongs: The economic rearrangement that must accompany any successful effort to fix the planet’s climate system is an opportunity to make sure that the people who’ve always been left out won’t be put at the back of the all-electric bus…
… Patterson (Jacqueline Patterson is the director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program): Well, there’s one story I tell to help people understand intersectionality: There’s a picture I show of this young boy named Antoine, who lives in Indiantown, Florida, 3 miles from a coal-fired power plant. He has severe asthma. There’s a picture of his bag of medicines that show what he depends on to get by from day to day. And there’s a picture of him as a young boy watching other kids play in a fountain. Another one shows him looking out the window and watching kids go to school. Not him—there’s so many poor air quality days that would put his life at risk if he went.
I talk about the connection between the very facility that is driving climate change and the increased concentration of pollutants that come from climate change. And the kids who can’t go to school. Or have a hard time paying attention because the other things that come out of smokestacks [are] lead. Or they might be drinking it from their water supply. I want people to see all those levels of risk kids have from these impacts.
And then I overlay it with the maps that show these same communities are food insecure—more likely to get Doritos and Cheetos than kale or quinoa. And I overlay that with the fact that when you have this many problems, including living next to a toxic facility, on average your property values are 15 percent lower. So that affects the quality of their schooling because they’re less resourced—fewer tax dollars. And then I show an image of a child standing on a milk crate being fingerprinted.
If you’re not on grade level by grade 3, you’re much more likely to enter into the school-to-prison pipeline. And then the same entities that fight against the regulations to help the air are the same entities pushing forward punitive criminal justice measures, and privatizing our prisons, and so on. People see that through the lens of an actual child, how all those systems come into play. How they come into play against his chance to be a thriving adult…
…climate change might be big enough to help us start reimagining things. Usually by the time I finish describing the problem side of my presentations, most people are properly depressed, but when I get on the transformation side, I start to talk about how these systems are predicated on exploitation of natural resources and of human resources. Or humans, period. How these systems are so deeply flawed—instead of commons, we have sacrifice zones. And how climate change is really a byproduct of this systematic world of winners and losers. And then we talk about the ways we really need to flip this on its head.
We talk about how when we have a system based on capitalism, by definition it means there are winners and losers. And communities of color, women, and so on are on the losing end. But it’s the 99 percent that are on the losing end in various degrees. And then we go through the various systems—how we deal with our waste, the way we are generating energy, how it’s possible for us to have 100 percent renewable energy. System by system, we talk about it. And then we talk about the whole economic and political system—the people who are using the profits from this old system to suppress democracy, to stay in control. That’s part of our narrative of transformation…
…As we are taking back our democracy by overturning Citizens United and getting money out of politics and so on, we also have to be the change we want to see in the world, even before our political system catches up. So, the things that the Institute for Local Self-Reliance does around helping us develop recycling systems, our own energy systems, our own food systems. How we shift power away from the Monsantos, the Exxons. How we shift away from these systems at the same time that we’re changing the rulemakers and the rules. We have to do it all at the same time.”
Zero Waste Alternatives
Energy Justice Network: Zero Waste Resources
Greening the Ghetto
Center for American Progress: 5 Things to Know About Communities of Color and Environmental Justice
NY Times: North Carolina’s Noxious Pig Farms
Energy Justice Network: When Zero Waste is Environmental Racism
National Geographic: 200 Environmentalists Were Murdered Last Year
Zero Waste Organizations