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Though any single piece of legislation would fail to address the
complex nature of the issues surrounding environmental injustice,
our proposed bills work to establish the necessary foundations as
well as require states to implement investigative and participatory
processes. Everyone deserves a healthy environment.
Public Participation Works
In December 2001, the Texas State and Tribal Environmental Justice
Advisory Panel noted that, due to a state bill requiring public
participation in the permitting process, “there [were] a lot
more public meetings now, a lot more comments from people,”
and the public became involved in the process earlier. This kind
of participation helps keep communities abreast of a company’s
progress during the permitting process. Our legislation is modeled
after this Texas bill, HB
801. For the entire Panel meeting’s notes, please see
and Tribal Environmental Justice Advisory Panel Meeting, December
What Does Environmental ‘Injustice’ Look Like?
Toxic Waste Exposure
- In a landmark report prepared by the United Church of Christ’s
Commission for Racial Justice in 1987, investigators discovered
that three of the five largest hazardous waste landfills in the
United States are in African-American or Latina/Latino neighborhoods.
- An update to this report found that, in 1993, the percentage
of people of color remains three times higher in areas with the
highest concentration of commercial hazardous waste facilities
than areas without commercial hazardous waste facilities.
- Studies done by the American Lung Association in 1990 show that
60 percent of African-Americans and Latinas/Latinos (three out
of five) live in communities where toxic waste sites are located.
Please see the full
- Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory found that populations
of color experience greater exposure to substandard outdoor air
quality. In particular, their research indicates that people of
color live in greater concentrations both in areas with above-average
numbers of air polluting facilities and in air quality non-attainment
- Argonne scientists found that 52 percent of all whites live
in counties with high ozone concentrations. For African-Americans
the figure is 62 percent, and for Hispanics it is 71 percent.
Population group distributions were found to be similar for carbon
monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead, and particulate
matter, with higher percentages of African-Americans and Hispanics
than whites residing in counties with excessive levels of these
- Moreover, the Argonne study found that 57 percent of all whites,
65 percent of African-Americans, and 80 percent of Hispanics live
in counties that failed to meet at least one of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency’s ambient air quality standards. Five
percent of whites, 10 percent of African-Americans, and 15 percent
of Hispanics live in counties that exceed standards for four air
- Several U.S. groups, including the Atlanta-based Georgia Coalition
for the People’s
Agenda and the Washington-based Black Leadership Forum, released
a study showing that 68 percent of African-Americans lived within
30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, compared with 56 percent
of U.S. whites. The study stressed that 30 miles is the distance
within which people experience the maximum effects of smokestack
emissions. For more information, please see the Reuters
article on the subject.(4)
- Migrant farm workers in the United States represent a diverse
group of people. About 85 percent are people of color, including
Latinas/Latinos (65 percent), African-Americans, Jamaicans, Haitians,
Laotians, and Thais.
- Every year, an estimated 300,000 farmworkers are poisoned by
pesticides. According to the Office of Technology Assessment,
an estimated 4 to 9 percent of agricultural and other workers
acutely poisoned by pesticides experience delayed persistent neurological
and psychiatric effects including agitation, insomnia, weakness,
nervousness, irritation, forgetfulness, confusion, and depression.
Additional studies of agricultural workers indicate that pesticide
poisoning can lead to poor performance on tests involving intellectual
functioning, motor skills, and memory.(5)(6)
What This Means For Children…
- Findings reported by Columbia University researchers indicate
that carcinogens in ambient air can be transferred trans-placentally
from mother to fetus. In fact, genetic damage to the fetus was
found to be higher than damage to mothers, indicating the increased
sensitivity of the developing fetus to the effects of carcinogenic
exposures. Children in the study had decreased birth weight, body
length, and head circumference.
- The health risks from air pollution are likely to be more serious
for children who are already exposed to toxic chemicals, because
they live or attend school near landfills, toxic waste sites,
bus depots and rail yards, industrial plants, or similar facilities.
Because of low-quality housing, overcrowding, and lack of air
conditioning, children in low-income communities may also spend
more time outdoors on smoggy summer days. (In the absence of air
conditioning, indoor concentrations of ozone can approach 80 percent
of outdoor levels.) In addition, children in low-income families
are less likely to receive sufficient health care.
- Along with the greater likelihood that children of color reside
in the areas of worst air pollution, African-American and Latina/Latino
children are potentially more susceptible to air pollution due
to their increased rates of asthma. Moreover, black 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 (mainly Puerto Rican) mothers have a rate of asthma
2.5 times higher than whites and more than 1.5 times higher than
- In an interview addressing environmental justice, Dr. Bruce
Lanphear, an associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s
Hospital Medical Center, who has studied lead for 10 years, offered
revealing information about lead poisoning:
- About 4.4 percent of children across the
country are believed to have lead levels at or above 10 micrograms
per deciliter (µg/dL) of blood, the level of concern
set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of
particular concern nationwide is the fact that a disproportionate
number of African-American children have high lead levels.
- Some 22 percent of black children, almost
five times the percentage of white children, are estimated
to have lead levels at or above 10 µg/dL. Lead poisoning
can lessen intelligence, stunt growth, and impair hearing.
Research revealed that race was the second most significant
predictor of lead poisoning. (Lead-contaminated household
dust is the most significant.)(7)
- The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES
III, a nationwide, cross-sectional health survey studying persons
aged one year or older) reported, in 1997, that some 900,000 American
children aged one to five years have blood-lead levels higher
than the Centers for Disease Control’s level of concern
(10 µg/dL). The toxicity of lead in relatively small doses
is associated with learning disabilities, poor attention spans,
and lowered IQ scores. In addition, a variety of behavioral problems,
both subtle and serious, stem directly from the presence of lead
in our children.(7)
- According to the National Academy of Sciences, concern about
children’s exposure to pesticides is valid because “exposure
to neurotoxic compounds at levels believed to be safe for adults
could result in permanent loss of brain function if it occurred
during the prenatal and early childhood period of brain development.”(5)
(1) “American Lung Association focuses on environmental justice
as asthma rates soar in low-income neighborhoods.” American
Lung Association of California. 20 March 2003 <http://www.californialung.org/spotlight/envjustice.html.>.
(2) State and Tribal Environmental Justice Advisory Panel Meeting,
December 11, 2001. Dallas, Texas: Texas Commission on Environmental
Quality, 11 December 2001. 20 March 2003 <http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/comm_exec/opa/stej_mtg5_pdfminutes_217778.pdf>.
(3) “Our Children At Risk: The 5 Worst Environmental Threats
To Their Health: Chapter 4: Air Pollution.” Natural Resources
Defense Council. Toxic Chemicals & Health. 20 March 2003 <http://www.nrdc.org/health/kids/ocar/chap4.asp>.
(4) Jacobs, Karen. “Blacks hurt more by power plant pollution,
says U.S. study.” Reuters. 24 October
2002. Environmental News Network. 20 March 2003 <http://enn.com/news/wire-stories/2002/10/10242002/reu_48785.asp>.
(5) “Our Children At Risk: The 5 Worst Environmental Threats
To Their Health: Chapter 5: Pesticides.” Natural Resources Defense
Council. 20 March 2003 <http://www.nrdc.org/health/kids/ocar/chap5.asp>.
(6) Solomon, Gina M., M.D., M.P.H. and Lawrie Mott, M.S. Natural Resources
Defense Council report. “Trouble on the Farm: Growing Up with
Pesticides in Agricultural Communities.” October 1998. U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency. Last updated on Tuesday, January
7th, 2003. 20 March 2003 <http://www.epa.gov/opprd001/nrdc_objections/03-19-attach-D-1-4.pdf>.
(7) Gaardner, Nancy. “Lead expert pushes ‘environmental
justice’.” Omaha World-Herald.
2 March 2002, special ed. 563 words.
(8) “Children At Risk: The 5 Worst Environmental Threats To
Their Health: Chapter 3: Lead.” Natural Resources Defense Council.
20 March 2003 <http://www.nrdc.org/health/kids/ocar/chap3.asp>.
|This package was last updated on September 8, 2004.