Backyard Talk

Covid-19 is an Environment Justice Issue

By: Leia Ku Cheng Yee, Communications and Development Intern
As we enter the month of March, we mark one year of wrestling with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In regards to the impacts of the pandemic, it comes to no surprise, that the minority, impoverished groups are the most negatively affected. One good thing that came out from the pandemic is that it has spotlighted the societal issue of the disproportionate amount of low-income population that live in contaminated areas. It has made these communities more visible than before. These low-income, racial-minority communities are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and have higher risk of death due to the decades of unjust and inequity in the system. The people still need to be more educated on this issue and raise awareness to the public. One year has gone by, and not much has changed. 
In 2020, the inequity in the country has been amplified through the Black Lives Matter Movement, but we still lack environmental regulations in the country to target environmental justice issues. I am sure that we are all aware that the virus does not discriminate, so why are certain communities struggling more than others? This is mainly caused by the lack of strong political voices in these communities, in comparison to a white, high-income community that has more economic power. Moreover, coal plants, landfills, injection wells, and other toxic waste sites have existed in communities of colors for decades, and have been emitting toxic pollutants to the air and water of these communities for years.
A new Harvard study found a significant overlap between COVID-19 fatalities and other conditions related to long-term air pollution exposure, showing that those who have lived in places with significant air pollution (cities) are 15% more likely to die from COVID-19 than those with the same health profile who live in less polluted areas. Through inhaling toxic chemicals in the air, these communities are more prone to cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, chronic health issues that increase their risk of contracting COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first breakdown of COVID-19 case data by race, showing that 30% of patients whose race was known were black. Communities of color have long fought for environmental justice issues through addressing the unjust in the system, but they lack political and economic power to prevent incoming toxic exposure, or eradicate existing pollution. 
To address the disparities in COVID-19, we have to first address our structural inequalities in this country. The high-income communities have easier access to professional health care, priority access for testing kits as well as vaccines, and have the luxury to enjoy staying at home. On the other hand, low-income communities struggle to put food on their table, and are risking their lives everyday just living in the contaminated neighborhoods, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our country needs to invest more in public health preparedness, so that these vulnerable communities are prepared when encountering disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo Credit: Bebeto Matthews

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ANALYSIS: State Laws Are Codifying Environmental Justice

A growing number of states are adopting laws that promote environmental justice (EJ), which is the equitable treatment and involvement of all people, regardless of demographic, in the development and application of environmental laws and policies.
These laws are giving regulators and communities new tools to mitigate negative environmental impacts that have historically and disproportionately affected minority and low-income communities.
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Photo Credit: Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Government

Homepage News Archive

Living in a contaminated land: Navajo EPA’s assistant director says history of uranium contamination has gone on long enough

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Dariel Yazzie, Environmental Assistant Director for the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes a deep breath when asked about why the cleanup of uranium mines on the Navajo Nation is important to him.
“It’s personal,” he said.
Yazzie shares that it has impacted his health and many of his family members’ health.
Yazzie grew up in Cane Valley, southeast of Monument Valley, and said his maternal grandfather Luke Yazzie Sr. found uranium mill tailings less than a mile from their homestead. Their home was demolished in 2009 because of the contamination.
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Photo Credit: Kathy Helms/Gallup Independent via AP