Environmental Justice: Raising Awareness

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Environmental Justice: Raising Awareness

The Discovery of Environmental Racism

The majority of the U.S. population is not aware of the problem of "environmental justice." Most people would not even know what the term means if they heard it. In this paper I will write about the discovery of "environmental racism" in the early 1980s and report what is known about it today. I will then argue that making the general public aware of the problem is a crucial step towards environmental justice.

The discovery of environmental racism can be traced to the plan of a new PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) landfill in a predominantly black community in Warren County, North Carolina, in 1982. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives the following "background information" on PCBs (1):

PCBs have significant ecological and human health effects including carcinogenicity (i.e., probable human cancer causing or promoting agent), neurotoxicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, immune system suppression, liver damage, skin irritation and endocrine disruption. These toxic effects have been observed from both acute and chronic exposures to PCB mixtures with varying chlorine content. PCBs do not breakdown readily in the environment and are taken into the food chain by microorganisms. PCBs are then biologically accumulated and concentrated at levels much higher than found in the surrounding environment thus posing a greater risk of injury to human health and the environment than might be imagined.

The already poor and disadvantaged community considers the addition of a toxic waste dump unacceptable; residents oppose the landfill by organizing protests that "some have termed the largest civil-rights demonstration since the 1960s...

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...ental Justice Advisory Council (1998). Homepage. http://es.epa.gov/oeca/oej/nejac/ (31 Oct. 1998).

11. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (1998). Homepage. http://www.niehs.nih.gov/ (31 Oct. 1998).

12. Office of Minority Health (1998). Office of Minority Health Resource Center. http://www.omhrc.gov/ (31 Oct. 1998).

13. National Law Journal (1992). Unequal Protection: The Racial Divide in Environmental Law. As quoted by: Bullard, R. D. (1993). Residential apartheid in Urban America. Earth Island Journal 8, 35-36. Retrieved October 31, 1998 from the World Wide Web: http://insite.palni.edu/

14. Environmental Justice Resource Center (1998). Homepage. http://www.ejrc.cau.edu/ (31 Oct. 1998).

15. Markowitz, G. & Rosner, D. (1998). Pollute the poor. Nation 267, 8-9. Retrieved October 31,1998 from the World Wide Web: http://insite.palni.edu/

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