Environmental injustice is a serious issue in America, and its effects are being brought to light by a large amount of scientific studies. Raquel Pinderhughes describes environmental injustice as “exposure to toxins which occurs through pesticides in food, heavy metals, synthetic chemicals, plastic residues, pesticides, and other chemical products in the water, and toxic chemicals in the air and soil” which has been shown to be more common in minority populations.
In fact, the large amount of instances of disease caused by environmental injustice has caused the United States to lag behind significantly on issues of health compared to other developed countries, as found by Brulle. This problem should be an outrage to our society, and needs to be solved as soon as possible. People of all ethnicities and classes should have access to the same healthy environment.
Through this article, I hope to shed some light on the issue as well as offer a potential solution. The issue of environmental justice is serious and effects mainly minority communities. Pollock explains “environmental inequity may be directly measured by the degree of difference in pollution exposure between social groups. ” There are many recent examples of environmental injustice in our country.
Pinderhughes explains a few, such as how in the Navajo Nation, children who are raised in uranium mining areas are developing cancer at 15 times faster than the national average; In Memphis, Tennessee, there are higher rates of cancer, chronic respiratory illness, and neurological disorders in non-whites; and in Lake Charles, Louisiana, people of color are experiencing eye irritation, nosebleeds, nausea, and cramps due to contaminated water and fumes blown in by wind from chemical plants. Many of these toxic facilities are placed in minority communities, possibly due to a number of different reasons.
Pinderhughes explains that, in white communities, penalties for the development of hazardous waste sites are 500% higher than communities that are mostly comprised of minorities. Also, the government tends to take a longer time to address hazards which occur in minority communities, and accept solutions that are less stringent than would be in white communities – for example, choosing to contain hazardous areas as opposed to pursuing treatment, or permanently destroying the waste and toxins located there.
The disproportionate number of hazardous waste sites in minority communities is proven by many studies, such as one conducted by the U. S. General Accounting Office which found that African American communities in the south held a large number of sites as opposed to white communities, as discussed by Brulle. Brulle also found that race is one of the most important factors in predicting where a toxic waste site would be located. The core causes for this injustice can be explained by environmental racism.
Chavis defined environmental racism as “racial discrimination in environmental policymaking, the enforcement of regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of communities of color 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 color from leadership of the ecology movements,” as explained by Brulle. Environmental racism may be intended or unintended, just as institutional racism.
It’s been suggested that this is not the case and that minorities and the poor tend to move to these areas because they find work there or can only afford those areas. Pollock found that this is still an example of environmental racism in that the “social processes are trapped by these variables,” and are shaped by institutional racism. Pinderhughes explains that commonly, communities composed of people of color are chosen for these sites because they tend to be poorer, less informed, less organized, and less politically influential than their white counterparts.
Another cause of environmental injustice may be the idea of the Treadmill of Production. This is the concept the inefficient functioning of capitalism, Brulle states. This treadmill explains the reason for the harmful chemicals that cause environmental injustices: capitalism requires the creation of products to create wealth, and the byproduct of this is the creation of negative byproducts. These byproducts normally end up harming the least well off group of people, causing pollution and harm.
Racial segregation is another issue, in that people of color are “restricted in their choice of residence by a series of mechanisms that result in racial segregation. ” This results in these people being segregated to communities of disadvantage. All of these factors contribute to the cause of environmental injustice in our country. I believe that there is an obvious solution to the problem of environmental injustice. Techniques such as Not-In-My-Backyard styles, may actually make the problem worse by increasing it, as explained by Pollock, so a good amount of factors need to be considered when creating a solution.
The solution that I propose sounds simple, but really may end up being a difficult challenge – end institutional racism. Ending institutional racism means forming large social movements that demand change. Pinderhughes states that improving the issue of environmental injustice is an “inherently political issue, directly linked to the political process,” which means that we need to demand political change in order to fix it.
Many movements have been formed in the past, such as the Environmental Justice Movement, the Anti-Toxics Movement, and the People of Color Environmental Movement, Brulle explains. A change in governmental policy to address practices such as segregation of communities, transportation, energy and waste management needs to be demanded by new organizations. If a movement becomes large enough, it will gain enough power to change the tides of the governmental policy regarding environmental justice. We must band together to stop the threat of disease on minorities by toxic waste plants.