Blog by Joy Barua

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Credit: GERALD HERBERT / AP

The color of our skin or where we live shouldn’t determine the outcome of our health. Unfortunately, that is not the case for a large portion of the population both domestically and internationally. Environmental racism and justice are critical issues of modern society, one that often gets overlooked and gets buried by the government.

Various studies in the past have linked exposure to pollution that is often linked with racial segregation. Those living in segregated areas are more like to be exposed to pollutants. A study conducted in 2012 Environmental Inequality in Exposures to Airborne Particulate Matter Components in the United States https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3546368/

found that exposure to particulate matter (PM) is higher amongst those of color than whites. The study looked at exposure to various components in which both Hispanic and Blacks had a higher amount of exposure compared to whites. The study also looked at exposure based on Socioeconomic Status (SES) and the result finds that persons with lower SES were significantly more exposed to higher levels of PM than those with higher SES.

There are many other studies similar to the one mentioned that found both Blacks and Hispanics have a higher amount of exposure compared to whites. However, African Americans have a higher chance of being exposed to pollution from the emissions of factories due to the placement of these facilities in minority neighborhoods.

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Credit: Jon Hrusa/EPA

Environmental health is not only about being exposed to toxic components but also about the surroundings of a person’s living and working conditions. Black people are some of the most vulnerable population when it comes to neighborhood and community disparity. This is prominent in South Africa where the living and social conditions for blacks are far more challenging compared to whites as stated by Robert Bullard in his book The Quest for Environmental Justice. In South Africa, whites make more money while paying less tax while black people are making less money while paying higher taxes.

The corrupted political system in South Africa also favors whites more than blacks. As a result, black peoples are almost being pushed out and being forced to live under cruel circumstances such as living near power and sewage plants. As a result, they are exposed to more hazardous substances. Blacks in South Africa also face neighborhood disparity as there are more parks and recreation created for those living in the white neighborhood compared to blacks. Black people in South Africa are also exposed to workplace disparity as they work in some of the most unsafe work conditions under the reconstruction and development program (RDP).

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Similar situations are also prevalent here in the states where some African Americans are living without modern sanitation and access to clean water. Flint’s water is a perfect example of that where a town with a majority black population does not still have access to clean water after the city switched its water source to the Flint River. As I mentioned earlier that people of color are more likely to be living near hazardous-waste facilities, but another report states that people of color are exposed to a level of nitrogen dioxide—which emanates from cars and industrial sources as stated in the article Race Best Predicts Whether You Live Near Pollution https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/race-best-predicts-whether-you-live-near-pollution/

While the EPA had acknowledged and made progress on the issue of environmental racism and injustice, the current administration has dismantled much of the work that had been completed. It started with President Trump placing Scott Pruitt as the new EPA administrator leading to the dismantling of previous federal-environmental justice work. Further changes are taking place as those scientists that have been working on and has extensive knowledge of environmental justice are now either being fired or replaced by the current administration as reported by The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/the-trump-administration-finds-that-environmental-racism-is-real/554315/

Thus, burying the issue of Environmental racism and injustice in our country!