What is Environmental Racism?
Environmental racism is a form of inequality and systematic racism, where environmental policies and practices place environmentally hazardous facilities in low income areas and communities of color. It is a form of inequality because people of color face a higher burden of exposure to environmental hazards such as pollution. And this higher exposure to environmental hazards, promotes high pollution environments causing health problems for the residents of these communities.
The term has existed since protests in the 1980s demanding action. A group well known to be a part of these protests is the Environmental Justice Movement.
A civil rights leader and member of the Environmental Justice Movement by the name of Benjamin Chavis defined environmental racism as “racial discrimination in environmental policy-making, the enforcement of regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of communities of colour for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities, and the history of excluding people of colour from leadership of the ecology movements” (Benjamin Chavis, 1982).
The Impacts of Environmental Racism
It impacts the health of the residents in the communities where it occurs. In communities such as communities of color where environmental racism is present, there is a higher rate of exposure to harmful pollutants than in other communities. And the higher rate of exposure to harmful pollutants leads to a greater risk and rate of health problems such as cancer, lung conditions, heart attacks, increased severity of asthma, lower birth rates, and a higher incidence of high blood pressure, etc.
A study done in 2018 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that due to living in proximity to facilities that emit particulate pollution, for example soot, people of color on average faced a 28 percent higher health burden compared to the general population.
Examples of Environmental Racism
Grassy Narrows, Ontario is a reserve, legally known as English River Indian Reserve 21. There are 1,594 registered members of Grassy Narrows First Nation, Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek, 971 of whom live on-reserve as of 2019. About 90% of the residents suffer from mercury poisoning due to the dumping of mercury into the English-Wabigoon river system between 1962 and 1970. The effects of the pollution are ongoing.
In Flint, Michigan, a predominantly black community, thousands of residents were exposed to dangerous levels of lead from the municipal water supply system. And this had severe health effects on the community including a community-wide outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a form of phenomena, and the children of Flint experienced serious and lasting health problems, including lost teeth.
What is Being Done About Environmental Racism
The Environmental Justice Movement seeks to improve and maintain a clean and healthful environment, especially for those who have traditionally resided closest to emitters of pollution. They challenge injustice and the unequal treatment of people of color, and are currently working to raise awareness and end such inequalities.
The Environmental Justice Movement started with the black activists who were protesting the toxic dumping of PCBs in Warren County, North Carolina, and are now in present times fighting for safe water in Flint, Michigan, clean air in the South Bronx’s Asthma Alley, and other environmental hazards in POC communities.
An article from the NRDC describes ways in which individuals can fight for racial equity and environmental action. And it lists that you should; advocate for systematic change by speaking out against unscrupulous corporate actors, learn more about environmental racism, and support a green economy that uplifts BIPOC communities.
Ihab Mikati, Adam F. Benson, Thomas J. Luben, Jason D. Sacks, and Jennifer Richmond-Bryant, 2018: Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status. American Journal of Public Health 108, 480_485, Retrieved February 08, 2022, from https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2017.304297
Beecham, M. (2020, June 16). How to Unite the Fight for Racial Equity and Environmental Action. NRDC. Retrieved February 08, 2022, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-unite-fight-racial-equity-and-environmental-action
Environmental Racism: What It is and How You Can Fight It. (2021, April 6). Climate Reality. Retrieved February 08, 2022, from https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/environmental-racism-what-it-and-how-you-can-fight-it
Wikipedia contributors. (2022, January 29). Environmental racism. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 08, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_racism#:%7E:text=Environmental%20racism%20impacts%20the%20health,weaken%20or%20slow%20brain%20development
Millar, H. (2021, November 15). What is environmental racism? MNT. Retrieved February 08, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/environmental-racism#research
What is Environmental Racism And How Can We Fight It? (2021, September 1). World Economic Forum. Retrieved February 08, 2022, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/07/what-is-environmental-racism-pollution-covid-systemic/
Miller, R. S. V. (n.d.). The Environmental Justice Movement. NRDC. Retrieved February 08, 2022, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/environmental-justice-movement
Grassy Narrows. (n.d.). The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 08, 2022, from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/grassy-narrows
Denchak, M. (n.d.). Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know. NRDC. Retrieved February 08, 2022, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/flint-water-crisis-everything-you-need-know#sec-summary
Environmental Racism: A Public Health Crisis. (2021, February 24). Environmental Working Group. Retrieved February 08, 2022, from https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/environmental-racism-public-health-crisis
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