Environmental Justice in the United States of America
The environmental justice movement in the United States questions inequities
in the distribution of toxic waste sites, which activists assert are
disproportionately located in minority and other low-income areas. This growing
human rights issue deeply affects the people living in these communities,
who are faced daily with a diminishing "quality of life," as well as exposure
to significant health hazards.
The environmental justice movement captured national attention in 1982, when
a demonstration took place against the siting of a hazardous waste landfill
in Warren County, North Carolina, a county comprised of a predominately
In 1987, the United Church of Christ published a nationwide study (Toxic
Waste and Race in the United States), considering the association between
hazardous waste facilities and the racial/socioeconomic composition of the
communities hosting such facilities.
=>The study reported that while economic status played an important role
in the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities, the race of the
residents proved to be more significant.
In 1992, the EPA-established Environmental Equity Workgroup issued a report
(Environmental Equity: Reducing Risk of All Communities), which concluded
that racial minorities and low-income people were disproportionately exposed
to lead, selected air pollutants, hazardous waste facilities, contaminated
fish and agricultural pesticides in the workplace.
A study released this year further confirmed the environmental inequities,
which was sponsored by the Center for Policy Alternatives, the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the United Church of
Christ Commission for Racial Justice:
=>The percentage of minorities living in communities with commercial hazardous
waste sites rose from 25 percent in 1980 to almost 31 percent in 1993
=>Minorities are 47 percent more likely than others to live near hazardous
A June 1995 report issued by the General Accounting Office reviewed 10 separate
studies addressing the demographics of people living near hazardous waste
facilities. The GAO summarized that the study results varied. Some concluded
that minorities and low-income people were disproportionately represented
in these areas, while others did not.
In response to the increasing concern about environmental justice in the
U.S., the EPA and Administration have begun to reexamine policies and
=>In February, 1994, an Executive Order was issued requiring federal agencies
to develop a comprehensive strategy for making environmental justice a part
of their decision-making and operations.
Sources: United States General Account Office report entitled "Hazardous
and Nonhazardous Waste: Demographics of People Living Near Waste Facilities"
(June 1995), USA Today article entitled "Community, Waste Plant on Common
Ground" (August 25, 1994).
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