The Flint, Michigan water crisis shows that environmental racism, where toxic substances and polluters are deliberately located in Black neighborhoods, is still a major problem.
A study by researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) also supports this point. SUNY-ESF researchers studied 16,000 facilities and found 5 percent of them generate 90 percent of the environmental harm. Most of these “super polluters” are located in minority and low-income neighborhoods.
Mary Collins, assistant professor of environmental studies at the State University Of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, was one of the researchers on the team. She was surprised by the findings.
“I did not expect to find that 5 percent of the facilities generated 90 percent of the risk,” Collins said. “I re-ran that and checked the data so many times, thinking that it had to be wrong.”
The SUNY-ESF research team started their project in 2014 and published the findings in the January 2016 issue of the journal Environmental Research Letters. They said “structural discrimination” was the no. 1 reason these super polluters were located in minority neighborhoods.
However, the SUNY-ESF’s research team’s findings are not unusual. If politicians are thinking about building a nuclear plant, chances are they are not going to put in a wealthy, white suburb, where the residents can hire lobbyists and lawyers to fight them. They are more likely to place it in it poor or Black neighborhoods, where the residents lack political clout.
Flint is just one of several cases of environmental racism. Brave New Films also exposed environmental racism in the YouTube documentary Koch Brothers Exposed, which investigated a Georgia-Pacific plant in Crossett, Arkansas. Crossett is a low-income community that is about 40 percent Black. Local resident David Bouie told The Huffington Post the plant was responsible for 11 cancer deaths in his neighborhood. He said local air quality is terrible.
“Everyone in the city calls it ‘the crud,'” said Bouie in an interview with The Huffington Post. “When you mention ‘the crud,’ everybody knows it’s the crud that’s coming from the mill that causes people to get sick.”
The Huffington Post said the air quality was so bad that several people had died from lung cancer, even though they weren’t smokers.
Another case of environmental racism can be found in Rogers-Eubanks, a small Black community just outside Chapel Hill, N.C. According to The New Yorker, local residents agreed to locate a landfill in their town 40 years ago in return for municipal services such as sidewalks, a sewer connection and a community center. Forty years later they’re still waiting.
According to The New Yorker, a 1987 report commissioned by the United Church of Christ found that three of the nation’s five largest hazardous waste landfills were located in Black or Hispanic communities. The New Yorker said a review of 50 epidemiological studies published in 2000 found that living near a landfill was linked to low birth weight, genetic defects and infant mortality.