Environmental Racism

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In order to produce things that we use and need, it sometimes causes hazardous waste. To keep people safe and happy, there have to be places where this waste can be dumped. Sadly, the places chosen are most often poorer areas populated by minorities, chosen for just that. This is called environmental racism.

Environmental racism was coined in 1982 by Benjamin Chavis, the director of the United Church of Christ. He first began thinking of this as environmental racism because of the PCB waste that was dumped in Warren County, North Carolina. The attention that had been focused on this even made people start to realize a connection between where hazardous waste is dumped and the people that live there.

Environmental racism is defined as, “the term used to describe the higher incidents of environmental threats and subsequent health problems in lower income communities, which are commonly dominated by people of color.” (American Democracy Now, pg. 537) In other words, it is deciding to dump hazardous waste in poorer communities, lowering their property value and quality of life. This is because people in these areas don’t have the funds to put towards keeping waste out of their communities, nor do they have political connections to provide them with the power to keep it out. Cost-benefit analysis also plays a role in where waste is put. This is the analysis of a planned project and all its monetary costs to the benefit it brings to the area in terms of dollar amounts. All of these things are what make the minorities in these poorer areas most challenged by this policy.

Disasters have happened plenty of times because of where waste is dumped. For example, on November 19, 1984, disaster struck at a PEMEX liquid propane gas plant. This caused thousands to be killed and a million injuries to neighboring communities. Another incident is the case that was brought up in 1989 when Louisiana Energy Services (LES) decided to put a uranium enrichment plant in the poor area of Louisiana based off of it being “the best place”. The community came together to form the “Citizens against Nuclear Trash”. They sued LES for environmental racism.

On May 1, 1997, it was determined that racial bias did play a part in locating an area for the plant. One more was the Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. This air base, surrounded by poor, Hispanic communities, contained around 282,000 tons of hazardous waste. After the communities began reporting illnesses, a poll was done which discovered that 91% of the adults had illnesses of the nose, ears and throats and 79% of children had the same. It was discovered that the plant had been dumping waste in the area from 1960-1973. These cases are just the tip of the iceberg of examples of environmental racism in American history.

In order to help these situations, I would propose that hazardous waste is watched more closely and evenly distributed between communities, regardless of their race or financial status. This was, it is racially unbiased and allow the waste to be stretched among more area, hopefully diluting the effects. I would also propose that we actively work towards finding solutions to dumping hazardous wastes that would prevent putting them in communities at all.

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Environmental Racism. (2019, Feb 05). Retrieved June 20, 2024 , from

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