Updated: Jan 27, 2022
[Picture Source: The gardening Cook]
What is Environmental Justice?
Environmental justice is a concept that emerged from the early 1960s, following a movement that sought to address the inequity of environmental protection within communities. The concept embraces the principle that all communities should be entitled to equal protection and access to environmental burdens and benefits. It is a fight to push back against the disproportionate level of exposure to hazardous waste and pollution faced by BIPOC and low-income communities.
Today, BIPOC and low-income communities are far more likely to live in areas with higher rates of air pollution, toxic waste facilities, landfills, and lead poisoning.
A Yale University study determined that Hispanics had the highest exposure rates for 10 out of the 14 pollutants being monitored, while African Americans had higher exposure rates than white individuals for 13 out of the 14 pollutants. Some of the pollutants studied have been connected to asthma, lung disease, and cancer.
Another study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 11.2 percent of African American children and 4.0 percent of Mexican-American children are poisoned by lead, compared to 2.3 percent of white children. This may result in a wide range of health problems, such as anemia, seizures, and brain development issues.
Moreover, a report by the Center for Effective Government found that BIPOC individuals are nearly twice as likely as white residents to live near an industrial facility.
Children have little control over where they live, what they eat, the financial circumstances of their families, or the developmental activities and behaviors, making them the most vulnerable to environmental contaminants.
Exposed to environmental injustice well before birth, children disproportionately living in communities with landfills, hazardous waste facilities, incinerators, industrial plants, and old housing with poor indoor air quality and lead-based paint are subjected to more dangerous circumstances compared to adults.
Undergoing rapid growth and development, children’s early development opens windows of greater vulnerability, magnifying the consequences of high exposure to toxins, which may result in the earlier development of chronic diseases.
Data indicate that children of these communities have higher rates of asthma, elevated blood lead levels, learning disabilities, and hyperactivity than do white and more affluent children.
The Legacy of Environmental Injustice
It is time to take initiative and acknowledge the harms of environmental injustice and bring attention to the plight of environmentally vulnerable communities.
As communities and advocacy groups fight to promote healthier environments for BIPOC, low-income individuals, and children through protests, litigations, the government needs to pass effective resolutions that safeguard those who are the most vulnerable.
Without unity, consensus, and common ground, the cycle of segregated pollution, disproportionated actions towards climate change, and the legacy of environmental injustice continues.
Bell, J. (2017, May 08). 5 things to know about communities of color and environmental justice. Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2016/04/25/136361/5-things-to-know-about-communities-of-color-and-environmental-justice/
Landrigan, P., Rauh, V., & Galvez, M. (2010). Environmental justice and the health of children. Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6042867/#:~:text=2-,Environmental%20injustice%20contributes%20to%20disparities%20in%20health%20status%20across%20populations,mental%20health%20and%20developmental%20problems
"Two different Realities": Why America needs environmental justice. (n.d.). Retrieved April 08, 2021, from