Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice

The environmental justice movement addresses the fact that communities of color and impoverished communities often live in some of the countries most polluted areas. Environmental justice advocates aim to show that areas with little political influence get stuck with more pollution and facilities emitting toxic chemicals than more affluent communities. Adults and children are affected by air pollution, pesticide exposure and lead poisoning more so then others because of environmental injustice.

The modern environmental justice movement was launched when Warren County, North Carolina residents took action against the construction of a PCB landfill in their rural, predominantly African-American community. Since then, studies such as the U.S. General Accounting Office's "Siting of Hazardous Waste Landfills and Their Correlation with Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities" have confirmed the idea that low income communities are faced with a disproportionate number of environmental hazards.

Another landmark study was conducted by the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice. They found that in 1993, the percentage of people of color remained three times higher in areas with the highest concentration of commercial hazardous waste facilities than areas without commercial hazardous waste facilities. In 1994, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice, which reinforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and emphasizes compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

In 2008, the nation faced one of its biggest environmental disasters when coal ash spilled out of a power plant in Kingston, Tennessee. Our country then also faced a huge environmental justice crisis when the coal ash was moved from the predominantly white middle class neighborhood in Tennessee to Uniontown, Alabama's landfill. Uniontown is a low income African-American community that suffers from high unemployment and now contains millions of tons of toxic sludge. Uniontown's Arrowhead landfill has taken about 2 million tons of coal ash from the disaster in Tennessee leaving residents suffering from respiratory illness and cancer.

There are countless examples of landfills, toxic waste dumps, and coal plants being located in communities of color. Moton Elementary School in New Orleans was built on top of a landfill and the playgrounds in Norco, LA were built across from oil refineries. Although there has been progress made in the environmental justice movement there is still a long way to go to protect poorly represented communities from public health and environmental injustice.

There is greater likelihood that children of color reside in the areas of worst air pollution. Moreover, African American children aged five to fourteen years are four times more likely than whites to die from asthma, and African-Americans under the age of twenty-four are 3.4 times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma. Children of Latina mothers have a rate of asthma 2.5 times higher than whites and more than 1.5 times higher than blacks.



The Sierra Club


Robert D. Bullard, Ph.D.


Siting of Hazardous Waste Landfills and Their Correlation With Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities. General Accounting Office. 1983.

Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. Commission for Racial Justice. 1987.

Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. Environmental Justice Timeline-Milestones.

Natural Resources Defense Council. Toxic Chemicals & Health. Our Children At Risk: The 5 Worst Environmental Threats To Their Health: Chapter 4: Air Pollution.. 20 March 2003
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