Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Important Shit I Have Been Reading: Pollution, Poverty, People of Color: The factory on the hill

via Environmental Health News:
"While most coastal cities breathe ocean breezes mixed with traffic exhaust, people in north and central Richmond are exposed to a greater array of contaminants, many of them at higher concentrations. Included are benzene, mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and neurological effects. People can’t escape the fumes indoors, either. One study showed that some of the industrial pollutants are inside Richmond homes. 
It's the triple whammy of race, poverty and environment converging nationwide to create communities near pollution sources where nobody else wants to live. Black leaders from the Civil Rights Movement called the phenomenon environmental racism, and beginning in the early 1980s, they documented the pattern at North Carolina's Warren County PCBs landfill, Louisiana's "Cancer Alley," Tennessee's Dickson County, Chicago's South Side, Houston's Sunnyside garbage dump and other places across the country. 
About 56 percent of the nine million Americans who live in neighborhoods within three kilometers of large commercial hazardous waste facilities are people of color, according to a landmark, 2007 environmental justice report by the United Church of Christ. In California, it’s 81 percent. Poverty rates in these neighborhoods are 1.5 times higher than elsewhere. 
Those numbers, however, reflect a miniscule portion of the threats faced by nonwhite and low-income families. Thousands of additional towns are near other major sources of pollution, including refineries, chemical plants, freeways and ports. 
Richmond is one of these beleaguered towns, on the forefront of the nation's environmental justice struggle, waging a fight that began a century ago."

As you've probably heard, the Chevron refinery in Richmond had a fire a couple of days ago.  This fire left huge toxic clouds which are now going to make their way around the bay area (in fact, currently, in my direction).  Environmental racism is a deathly real thing, and I think it's very important that we understand that it's part of a long pattern of behavior.  This is not simply "an accident," it is part of a historical trajectory that says low income people, people of color, and Native people (in particular) are fair game to be slowly poisoned and their lives risked for the profit of an upper crust of normative White people.  This article does some of that work, and so I share it with you.