"Today, zip code is still the most potent predictor of an individual's health and well-being"
Environmental racism has plagued communities of color for decades.
The Father of Environmental Justice<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM5ODY4Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2Mzg1MTg1Mn0.jTEwZ6K95TaWR0W8eha3COSUH3xNTwaA7KRj1vV1luo/img.jpg?width=980" id="caa1c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f1b6b8e0186af8ebd447c31ee439ad15" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2047" data-height="1479" />
Dr. Robert Bullard (Credit: University of Michigan)<p>Dr. Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University is known as the "father of environmental justice." A leading activist for the movement since it emerged in the 1980s, he's been at the forefront of the cause and ultimately defined the movement:</p><blockquote><em>"Environmental justice embraces the principle that all people and communities have a right to equal protection and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulations....Today, zip code is still the most potent predictor of an individual's health and well-being. Individuals who physically live on the "wrong side of the tracks" are subjected to elevated environmental health threats and more than their fair share of preventable diseases....Reducing environmental, health, economic and racial disparities is a major priority of the Environmental Justice Movement."</em></blockquote><p>Bullard's work has escalated into a national movement. </p><p>While the dialogue has begun, the work to be done is widespread and ever-present.</p>
Environmental injustices: A quick glance at the issues at hand<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM5ODcwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MTM0ODQ0MH0.UV1MplM3yVfmmE4J7HiSb0dlpg-HqR5W9sUJ5pA1IJY/img.jpg?width=980" id="14fd9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="390fdc57541e05f0f6dfdc55cb513ae4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="4200" data-height="2638" />
North Richmond, California, is a community beleaguered by factory pollution. (Credit: Robert Durell)<p><strong>Air pollution:</strong> <a href="https://www.sierraclub.org/press-releases/2019/08/new-study-shows-environmental-racism-and-economic-injustice-health-burdens" target="_blank">This 2018 study</a> found that communities living below the poverty line have a 35 percent higher burden from particulate matter emissions than the overall population. Non-whites had a 28 percent higher health burden and African Americans, specifically, had a 54 percent higher burden than the overall population.</p><blockquote><em><strong>In detail:</strong> In a 4-part series, we uncovered a <a href="https://www.ehn.org/pittsburghs-asthma-epidemic-and-the-fight-to-stop-it-2575098934.html" target="_blank">staggering asthma rate among Pittsburgh's children.<br></a><br><strong>Worth your time: </strong></em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/environmental-injustice-pittsburgh-air-pollution-2646169635.html" target="_blank"><em>Environmental injustice in Pittsburgh: Poor, minority neighborhoods see higher rates of deaths from air pollution</em></a></blockquote><p><strong>Chemical waste:</strong> People of color <a href="https://www.damascuscitizensforsustainability.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/shadow-of-danger-highrespdf.pdf" target="_blank">make up nearly half the population</a> in fence-line zones – areas closest to hazardous chemical facilities. They are almost twice as likely as whites to live near dangerous chemical plants. </p><ul> <li><strong>Chemical facilities</strong> in communities of color <a href="https://www.foreffectivegov.org/shadow-of-danger#:~:text=Facilities%20in%20communities%20of%20color,one%20incident%20per%2011%20facilities." target="_blank">have almost twice the rate of incidents</a> compared to those in predominately white neighborhoods – one incident per six facilities compared to one incident per 11 facilities.</li></ul><blockquote style="margin-left: 20px;"><em><strong>In detail: </strong></em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/pollution-poverty-and-people-of-color-2645581903.html" target="_blank">In June 2012,</a> EHN dispatched reporters to seven communities to report on their struggles to cope with an array of environmental threats. Years later their stories still resonate with all of us, as many of these communities still face disproportionate impacts from pollution.</blockquote><p><strong></strong><strong>Lead exposure:</strong> Although childhood lead exposure in the United States is decreasing, children of color are still disproportionately affected by lead poisoning, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/prevention/populations.htm" target="_blank">according to the CDC. </a></p><p><strong>Water contamination: </strong>Concerns about drinking water contamination among minority groups have been reported since the 1950s. Water quality is certainly still an issue today; for example, people of the Navajo Nation have dealt with water contamination since the 1950s uranium mining of the region, as well as the Gold King Mine wastewater spill in 2015. Today, one in three homes in the Navajo Nation do not have a tap or a toilet.</p><ul><li>Water quality can be affected by a host of different toxic chemicals or metals. For example, lead leached from aging pipes can pollute the drinking water. Flint, Michigan, has been dealing with community lead poisoning since 2014. More than half of Flint's population is people of color.</li><li>A few major cities across the country such as Detroit, Pittsburgh, Newark, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh struggle with select <a target="_blank" href="https://www.businessinsider.com/cities-worst-tap-water-us-2019-3">toxics in their tap water</a>.</li></ul><p><strong>Climate change:</strong> The effects of climate change, such as extreme weather conditions, can have devastating impacts on low-income communities. Extreme weather can displace residents that lack a safe place to go or the capacity to rebuild, and even cause death, especially if housing is old or inadequately built. </p><ul><li>Hurricane Katrina was devastating to New Orleans' African American community. Racial discrimination had pushed Black communities to the outskirts of the city; these were communities most impacted when the levees failed and are systematically neglected by local government. By 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 rebuilding efforts.</li></ul><em></em><blockquote><em><strong>In detail:</strong> <a href="https://www.ehn.org/nowhere-to-go-in-new-bern-climate-catastrophe-spurs-migrants-in-us-south-2626065468.html" target="_blank">Our coverage</a> in New Bern, North Carolina following Hurricane Florence documents the challenges of the community's most disenfranchised.</em></blockquote>
Origins of the movement: a brief history
The impact of decades of environmental neglect<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM5OTg4NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjc4ODgyMH0.5d4yvUoazW_lWmOh6b2aUy24i-Gkhpf389xxmHGoezQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="aeef8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f721a69d540b0038ce1809278b9f1470" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="800" data-height="530" />
Problems such as police brutality are correlated with environmental injustice. (Credit: Jamelle Bouie/flickr)<p>Environmental injustices contribute to disparities in health status among populations of different race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Due to disproportionate exposure to contaminated air, water, toxic chemicals, unsafe workplaces, and other environmental hazards, poor, disenfranchised, and minority communities face more health problems. Children, due to their developing state and age-related exposure patterns, are most at risk.</p><p>Health problems proven to correlate with environmental setting include:</p><ul><li>Asthma</li><li>Obesity</li><li>Lead poisoning</li><li>Lung cancer</li><li>Diabetes</li><li>Mental health and developmental problems</li></ul><div>As if health issues were not enough, the impact of environmental neglect compounds on itself and leaves these vulnerable communities facing further challenges, including:</div><ul> <li>Inadequate access to healthcare and preventative care</li><li>Lack of access to healthful foods<ul><li>For example, the Navajo Nation only has 13 full service grocery stores in an area spanning the size of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined. The average resident has to drive three hours to their nearest grocery store. The Navajo Nation is a <a href="https://www.planetforward.org/idea/13-grocery-stores-the-navajo-nation-is-a-food-desert" target="_blank">food desert.</a></li></ul></li><li>Lack of safe play spaces for children</li><li>Absence of good jobs</li><li>Heightened crime, violence, and police brutality</li></ul><blockquote><em><strong>In detail:</strong> <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-21/how-environmental-injustice-connects-to-police-violence" target="_blank">This article</a> by CityLab following the death of Eric Garner in 2014 makes a case for the link between environmental justice and police violence. The article remains incredibly applicable to what we are seeing today.</em></blockquote><ul><li>Voter suppression and systematic disenfranchisement</li><ul><li>Barriers to register</li><li>Lack of access to polling stations</li><li>Health problems tend to depress voter turnout</li></ul></ul><div>The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 demonstrate a cry for justice from a faction of our society that is systematically oppressed, discriminated against, and ignored. Movements such as BLM tie into the Environmental Justice movement: race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status should not affect one's right to a healthy environment and accompanying issues.</div>