16. THE SPECTER OF ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM

No one segment of society should have a monopoly on clean air, clean water, or a clean workplace; nor should any one segment be targeted for society's wastes. Nevertheless, some individuals, neighborhoods, and communities are forced to bear the brunt of the nation's pollution problem. People of color are disproportionately affected by industrial toxins, dirty air and drinking water, and the location of municipal landfills, incinerators, and hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.

This form of "environmental racism" is due primarily to exclusionary zoning laws, discriminatory land-use practices, industrial facility citing that targets racial and ethnic minority communities, and the unequal enforcement of environmental regulations.

According to The Workbook (Fall 1991):

* 60 percent of the total black population and 60 percent of the total Hispanic population live in communities with one or more uncontrolled toxic waste sites.

* About half of all Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans live in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites.

* Three of the five largest commercial hazardous waste landfills, which account for 40 percent of the nation's total estimated landfill capacity, are located in predominantly black or Hispanic communities.

* Lead poisoning endangers the health of nearly 8 million inner-city children, mostly black and Hispanic.

* Reproductive cancer among Navajo teenagers is 17 times the national average.

* In 1988, of the 11 major national environmental organizations, only six minority persons were found serving on the boards, and only 222 (16.8%) minorities were employed of a total of 1,317 staff members; only 24 percent of those were professionals.

The waste management and hazardous chemical industries have targeted minorities as the least likely to resist their efforts to locate facilities nobody else wants. And their callous, self-serving program is succeeding.

SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: MARIA BROSNAN

SOURCE: THE WORKBOOK, P.O. Box 4524, Albuquerque, NM 87106
DATE: Fall 1991
TITLE: 'Beyond Ankle-Biting: Fighting Environmental Discrimination Locally, Nationally, and Globally'
AUTHORS: Kathy Cone Newton with Frances Ortega

COMMENTS: Author Kathy Cone said she doesn't "think 'average' Americans think much about the effects of water and air pollution on minorities or have thought about the fact that the distribution of polluting industries and hazardous wastes can be a racial question at all. Of course, the people who are directly affected, who live with it every day and suffer the health effects or just plain grimness of living with it, as evidenced by so many articles in the grassroots press, know they are victims of prejudice, whether racial or economic. As a group, surely they would benefit from more attention in the mass media because their plight would be recognized and a 'face' would be put on their dilemma. And with greater media exposure, Americans who aren't suffering from environmental pollution because they're able to live as far from the sources as possible would gradually become unable to deny that to live with clean air and clean water, in a healthy environment, is fast becoming a privilege and not a right. A lot of people think that those who live near the chemical plants or dumps or toxic waste storage tanks do it either by choice or indifference -- and they are simply unaware that industry actually deliberately targets groups of people who are the least likely to resist facilities in their neighborhoods or to insist on stringent regulations. Without public awareness of the practice it will surely continue without broad public resistance."

Further, Cone suggests that the polluters "won't have to reduce their production of hazardous materials and wastes as long as the only people making the fuss are those without political power or economic independence and the rest of us can go on believing it really isn't that bad. I think it's tremendously important for the issue to be given steady attention by the alternative press, but as long as it stays there, there won't be enough public pressure to insist on everyone's right to clean air and water."

Cone's hope is that "more articles and news coverage will focus on the health risks and reduction in quality of life for people who live in polluted surroundings and to expose the predominance of polluted environments in places where America's poor and minority people live. What exists now in the public mind is that we have to live with the pollution -- or somebody does -- in order to keep jobs and provide economic growth. Industry, as long as it escapes scrutiny by the mass media, will be able to keep on promoting this either-or notion of jobs vs. clean environment."