ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND INJUSTICE

Environmental injustice is the fact that neighborhoods that have predominately black, Latino, or poor people living in them are more likely to have environmental hazards and chemical waste deposits placed in them. In 1983, ¾ of poisonous waste landfills and other chemical harms were found in low-income neighborhoods or predominately people of color neighborhoods. A 1987 study showed that race was the most used factor when factories and governments decided where to dump their waste. However, this injustice hasn’t gone away since the 1980s. A 2018 study showed that people living below the poverty line are 35% more burdened by environmental problems and air pollution than the overall population. People of color are 28% more strained, and Black people are 54% more burdened. The Environmental Justice Movement is a movement to try and stop anyone from having to live in an environmentally unsafe place and to raise awareness about environmental racism. 

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ORIGINS OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT

It is usually said that the Environmental Justice Movement started in Warren County, North Carolina. In 1982, the state government decided to put 6,000 truckloads of soil laced with PCBs, a toxic pollutant, in a landfill in Warren County. The predominately black people of Warren County were afraid that the PCBs might contaminate the water, but the government ignored their concerns.  For six weeks, the people organized and marched in protest, lying down in front of the trucks to stop them from passing. Though ultimately the trucks were still dumped, the people of Warren County got national attention, inspired people to fight for a clean environment, and alerted people to the injustice. Although the protesters of Warren County are often credited with the creation of the EJ movement, of course, there were people who protested this injustice before them. In the 1960s, for instance, Latino farmhands fought for protection against pesticides in California, black students protested a garbage dump that killed two children in Houston, and residents protested a sewage treatment plant in West Harlem.

Image by Jordan Cormack
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Glen Ross, Urban Environmentalist; leader of the Toxic Tour in Baltimore, Maryland

WHY IS THERE ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE? 

Environmentally unsafe facilities are more than usually found in predominately low-income, Black, or Latino neighborhoods. This is for many reasons. For one thing, poor people often can’t afford to hire lawyers or miss work. People of color are often subjected to other types of racism that make it hard for them to advocate for themselves. But still, people of color and low-income people have protested and advocated these unjust situations. Another reason is the lack of information. No one wants a factory that hurts you in their neighborhood, so factories will disguise the health effects and advertise themselves as job-bringers. For example, In 1960s East Baltimore, there was a landfill laced with lead, and the government planted sunflowers in the ground to pull up lead. No one told the predominately black people who lived around there that the sunflowers had lead in them. People would eat the sunflower seeds and pluck them and bring them home. Years later, Glenn Ross, a man from that neighborhood, realizes what happened. Such environmental harms happen way to much in predominately black neighborhoods.

Image by Anne Nygård
Image by Tai's Captures

HEALTH EFFECTS AND ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE

This environmental injustice can cause lasting health problems. For example, inhaling particulate matter, small particles that can be grouped under air pollution, can cause severe asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death. Facilities that release particulate matter usually are in predominately Black, Latino, and low-income areas. Environmental unsafety often affects people’s health so much that life expectancy can be as much as 20 years different depending on where you live. Environmental Injustice has longlasting ad far-reaching effects. It has been shown that a small increase in air pollution leads to a 15% more fatality rate from COVID-19. Precious coronaviruses showed the same thing, people in more polluted areas are more likely to die from coronavirus. This is most likely because air pollution compromises the lungs. And it may not just be the damage air pollution does to the lungs that worsens coronavirus. A new study of northern Italy, a very polluted and also a very coronavirus infected area, says that coronavirus may be able to ride on particulate matter, which quickens the spread of the virus. Since people of color are more likely to be exposed to air pollution because of environmental injustice, this is one reason why in Louisiana alone 70% of the people who died from COVID-19 were black (as of April 7, 2020). 

sources cited

"A Lot like War: Petrocapitalism, 'Slow Violence,' and the Struggle for Environmental Justice." ELibrary, explore.proquest.com/elibrary/document/2328560040?searchid=1587404770&accountid=6724#undefined. Accessed 26 Apr. 2020.

"Native Americans and Environmental Justice." Native American Water Justice, native-american-water-justice.leadr.msu.edu/native-americans-and environmental-justice/. Accessed 26 Apr. 2020.

"The Environmental Justice Movement." National Resources Defense Council, 17 Mar. 2016, www.nrdc.org/stories/environmental-justice-movement. Accessed 26 Apr. 2020. 

Sneath, Sara. "Air Pollution Could Make Coronavirus More Severe for Some Louisianans." The Times Picayune, 7 Apr. 2020, www.nola.com/news/coronavirus/article_1f3514be-781f-11ea-abd8-53f40536c7f6.html. Accessed 26 Apr. 2020

Appleton, Andrea. "Glen Ross Gives 'Toxic Tours' of Neighborhoods You've Seen in the Wire." Grist, 12 Feb. 2013, grist.org/cities/ glenn-ross-gives-toxic-tours-of-neighborhoods-youve-seen-in-the-wire/. Accessed 26 Apr. 2020.

"Environmental Justice Factsheet." Center for Sustainable Systems, css.umich.edu/factsheets/environmental-justice-factsheet. Accessed 26 Apr. 2020

Willis, Brian. "New Study Shows Environmental Racism and Economic Injustice in Health Burdens of Particulate Pollution and U.S." Sierra Club, 22 Feb. 2018, www.sierraclub.org/press-releases/2019/08/new-study-shows-environmental-racism-and-economic-injustice-health-burdens. Accessed 26 Apr. 2020.