A reckoning in north Birmingham as EPA studies the ‘cumulative impacts’ of pollution and racism
Vernon Loeb of Inside Climate News writes about the question hanging over three Black neighborhoods in industrial north Birmingham that, together, compose the 35th Avenue Superfund site: What does the future hold—revitalization, or relocation?
In a nutshell:
The future of the neighborhoods remains uncertain. The Environmental Protection Agency has nearly completed the removal of toxic soil from the yards of around 650 homes in the area. However, some residents believe that decades of pollution, redlining, and racist zoning have irreversibly damaged the communities. Meanwhile, environmental justice advocates are pushing for accountability from polluters like Bluestone Coke and demanding the EPA assess the cumulative impacts of pollution on these neighborhoods and its own responsibility in the matter.
“It’s one thing to talk about individual permits, and emissions limits on permits and things of that nature, but it’s another thing to talk about the cumulative effect of living in this environment,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution.
The big picture:
The pollution emitted by coke works, such as those found in industrial areas like north Birmingham, has devastating health effects on vulnerable populations. These communities, often predominantly inhabited by marginalized groups, bear the brunt of the toxic emissions. The pollution from coke plants releases harmful substances like arsenic, lead and hydrocarbons into the air and soil, increasing the risk of cancer and other serious health conditions. Decades of exposure to such pollution, coupled with discriminatory practices like redlining and racist zoning, have led to long-lasting detrimental impacts on the health and well-being of these communities.
Read the article at Inside Climate News.
For more context, read Brian Bienkowski's excellent piece for EHN about how asthma-spurring pollution swirls around children living in the shadow of the Pennsylvania Clairton Coke Works Plant—where black and poor children suffer the most. And for more about how redlining has contributed to environmental racism, check out this Op-Ed by public health researchers David J.X. González and Rachel Morello-Frosch.