The definition of environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. No type of racism should be tolerated but this particular type can be deadly. And, if you think it is exaggerating to use the word “deadly,” take a look at a few stats that prove how environmental hazards disproportionately affect people of color:
Asthma rates in black children are double those of white children.
Black children are nearly three times more likely than white children to have elevated levels of lead in their blood.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals hinder the production of insulin which leads to diabetes. The risk for of developing diabetes is estimated to be 66 percent higher for Latinos and 77 percent higher for blacks than whites.
People of color in the US are also exposed to a 38% higher level of nitrogen dioxide, on average, than white people. Nitrogen dioxide is linked to asthma, bronchitis, and a host of other respiratory problems.
Black people make up the majority of communities living near landfills
If those statistics aren’t startling enough, let’s revisit a real case of environmental racism that affected the community of Flint, Michigan and is still directly impacting the residents. As early as August 16, 2014, Flint announced that fecal matter had been detected in the water supply and issued an advisory to boil all water. That advisory was lifted on August 20, 2014. In 2015, the EPA announced that elevated levels of lead were found in the water. In 2018, the residents were still being told to drink bottled and/or filtered water. Fast forward to 2019, a Michigan judge rules that residents of Flint can proceed with lawsuits against the federal government because the EPA was too slow to intervene in the crisis. And while that eventually may lead to some justice, these lawsuits will likely drag on for years before the citizens benefit from any outcomes.
In the meantime, there is really no way of knowing what the long-term effects of this crisis will have on the population. Judge Parker, who determined that the lawsuits could proceed, wrote the following, “The impact on the health of the nearly 100,000 residents of the City of Flint remains untold. It is anticipated, however, that the injury caused by the lead-contaminated public water supply system will affect the residents for years and likely generations to come." If Flint was comprised of wealthy white Americans, does anyone honestly think this problem would have happened in the first place or that it would still be a concern?
Unfortunately, the fact is that the issue of environmental racism will probably get worse before it gets better. The current administration has dismantled a record number of regulations to protect our water and air and proposed massive cuts to the EPA. In addition, climate change is starting to create refugees within our own country as people move away from flood plains and other areas that are being hardest hit by the changing weather patterns. The only way that change will happen is we all start taking action. There are ways that you can get involved and BCT Partners has provided a list of resources. In addition, write and call your congressional representatives and speak up for those who may not be able to speak up for themselves.