Louisiana’s “Cancer Capitol” is the term that was deemed appropriate to describe Mossville; a small town found by Jim Moss, a former slave, and a town populated almost entirely by black people. The reason the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) labeled it as such is because the small town is currently surrounded by fourteen chemical plants and industrial facilities that contribute on a daily basis to the town’s air, soil and water pollution. The town’s residents were found to be suffering from health issues as severe as cancer and serious learning disabilities to less sever ones such as rashes and breathing hardships. According to ICCR, these health concerns have been linked to the pollution caused by toxic chemicals. Recently, a new project to build one of the largest chemical plants in the country in this same area was proposed, if this were to happen, it is highly likely that Mossville will exist no more, and its residents will be forced to relocate.
While the terms Environmental Justice and Environmental Racism were coined in the United States, these issues are by no means limited to the borders of this country. On the contrary, they can be more strikingly severe and less subtle outside of the US. This is not to say that the United States is absolutely out of the equation. The United States dumping waste in India, American and European companies dumping toxic waste on the shores of Somalia, fueling numerous conflicts and problems in the country, as well as the US exporting toxic waste to be treated by African companies for as little as $3 a ton (in comparison to a cost of $1250 a ton in the US), are all examples of international environmental racism against a poor, predominantly of color population. However the issue this post will handle is none of the above, instead the focus will be the Palestinian case. Continue reading
Larry Payne was a sixteen year old black boy who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. In March 28, 1968,
Payne was marching in the streets of Memphis in a protest led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in support of sanitation workers who were part of an ongoing strike, as they were asking for their environmental and economic rights. After clashes with the police broke, Payne was shot dead by a Memphis police officer. The Second National People of Color Summit cited this series of strikes by sanitation workers as an important milestone in the history of the Environmental justice movement. Around 1970, over ten years before the term “environmental racism” was first officially used, the United States Public Health Services acknowledged that lead poisoning was more common among Black and Hispanic children than among white children. A year later, 1971, the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued its annual report which acknowledged discrimination against the poor and how that impacts the quality of their environment. In 1979, Linda McKeever Bullard filed a lawsuit against Southwestern Waste Management, Inc. which was seeking to build a solid waste management facility in Northeast Huston siting that the decision to build this facility is racially discriminating, since the neighborhood targeted is a predominantly black neighborhood. These events as well as many others made the general public more aware of a pattern showing that poor communities and communities of color are targeted locations for building polluting industrial facilities and siting dumping toxic waste. More importantly, these events have made more and more people of color conscious of the injustices and discrimination committed against them. The Protests against a PCB landfill in Warren County, North Carolina in 1982 were one of the major milestones for the Environmental Justice movement, and it was then that Dr. Benjamin Chavis, civil rights activists and leader, coined the term “environmental racism.” In his book, Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots, Dr. Robert Bullard, environmental justice researcher and activist, defines the term as: “Racial discrimination in environmental policy making. … enforcement of regulations and laws. …deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste disposal and the siting of polluting industries… racial discrimination in the official sanctioning
of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in communities of color. And, it is racial discrimination in the history of excluding people of color from the mainstream environmental groups, decisionmaking [sec] boards, commissions and regulatory bodies.”
In September 1982, citizens of the very poor, predominantly black, Warren County in North Carolina marched against establishing a PCB (highly toxic chemicals which were previously used in electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors before they were banned in 1979) landfill in their community. Six weeks later, after the last truck loaded with contaminated soil arrived at the landfill location, the police had arrested 523 people protesting the toxic dump, including Democratic Congressman Walter Fauntroy. The situation also marked the first official documented use of the term “environmental racism”—a phrase that implies race plays a factor in overlooking environmental and health concerns in neighborhoods occupied primarily by people of color. Although the term itself was coined quite a long time ago, this problem remains controversial today. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, racism is “poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race.” By extension, environmental racism is often defined as “the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color.”