The government ensures that people are safe in their homes, workplaces, and communities. However, this is not always the case. Environmental racism is the discriminatory actions against communities of color by government agencies and private businesses. It is also described as the excessive exposure of people of color to pollution, toxins, and other environmental hazards. These communities often have few resources available to them. They cannot leave their homes due to financial constraints or other reasons, such as cultural attachment to a place or lack of affordable housing options elsewhere in the community. Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, concerning the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. The ratio of African Americans in “borderline zones” around chemical factories is 75% higher than the national average, while the percentage of Latinos is 60% higher (Washington). The fence-line neighborhoods are inhabited mainly by individuals of color, although they hardly receive the public attention that Love Canal does, and they are not always impoverished. The health of people living in areas contaminated by environmental racism is at risk.
People might get sick from eating food grown in soil polluted by chemicals or waste products such as pesticides and herbicides used by farmers or others who work on farms or ranches. Some pesticides kill insects, but they also kill other creatures such as birds and fish which eat them or even touch them when they are sprayed with pesticides on plants or crops like corn or soybeans that are grown commercially for animal feed; these animals die when they eat these pesticides because they poison them and make them sick so they cannot eat properly anymore because they are too weak. For two out of every three toddlers, food is the most common source of exposure (Washington). Five-lead exposure in black children is substantially higher than in other racial backgrounds, and it originates from their surrounding environment—water, homes, dirt, and domestic industry. However, in addition to excessive home pollution, African American and Hispanic infants are exposed to lead-contaminated food.
People might get sick from breathing in polluted air. People who live in areas with much pollution are at risk for respiratory diseases, such as asthma and bronchitis. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to these types of illnesses. In addition to causing respiratory problems, industrial pollutants exposure can lead to other health issues such as cancer, heart disease, and congenital disabilities. African Americans and Hispanics, the two major minority groups in the United States, experience three times the number of asthmatic deaths as whites due to their closeness to polluting industry and waste sites (Washington). Dust mites, pets, and cigarette smoke are all risk factors for asthma. Still, the poor surface quality of air also increases cancer rates, which are more significant in African American and Hispanic populations. Long-term exposure to environmental toxins may even affect children’s brain development, which could lead to behavioral problems. Airborne pollutants can also irritate the skin and eyes, making them red and swollen. This is most common in people who live close to major roads or near industrial sites, but even people who live far away can be affected.
People living in areas contaminated by environmental racism are at risk of increased mortality rates and other health issues. In Flint, Michigan, for example, between 2013 and 2015, after the city switched to lead-poisoned Flint River water, researchers found that it caused hundreds of excess deaths among fetuses in Flint between 2013 and 2015 after the city hit lead-poisoned Flint River water (Washington). The town of Flint was once a thriving industrial city with a large population and high income. However, things have changed drastically since then. People who live in Flint are facing several problems, including contaminated water and air pollution from factory emissions. Lead poisoning can cause severe damage to body organs such as the brain and kidneys, leading to death if untreated for extended periods (Gee and Payne-Sturges). Children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning because their brains are still developing. Any damage caused by chemicals like lead will affect them permanently, even after they have grown up into adults with their own families.
Furthermore, microbes and other living things are rarely thought of as producing abnormal behavior or reducing IQ, but they should be. Microbes can change one’s behavior by altering their gut microbiome, the bacteria that live inside them, affecting brain chemistry and how individuals behave (Washington). This can lead to depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health issues associated with poverty-related social problems like homelessness and drug addiction. People living near extensive industrial facilities had higher blood pressure levels than those living farther away. Research has found that childhood exposure to lead can decrease IQ scores, with effects more pronounced at lower levels of exposure. Other studies have linked high blood lead levels in children to increased violent crime rates later. In addition, parents looking for a remedy to vermin and pollution exposure that may jeopardize cognition confront an uphill battle. Moving out of highly polluted regions and decaying, vermin-infested homes is an apparent start. Still, it can be prohibitively expensive for low-income or even middle-class families owing to financing institutional racism and persistent housing discrimination in the United States.
The chemicals can also get into the ground and make their way into the water supply. This is called groundwater contamination. Groundwater contamination has caused many problems for people near factories and industrial sites where toxic chemicals have been dumped or spilt onto the ground. The contaminants travel through the soil until they reach an aquifer and contaminate the groundwater supply. Even if people do not use tap water directly, they may still be exposed to harmful chemicals because they can be absorbed through their skin or inhaled. The most common way of groundwater contamination is improper landfilling and poor disposal of chemical wastes. This can happen due to ignorance, negligence or indifference on behalf of those responsible for these sites (Gee and Payne-Sturges). Most cases of groundwater contamination are caused by ignorance, as it can be hard to determine whether contaminated water is safe for drinking. These health problems caused by water contamination could include gastrointestinal disorders such as vomiting and diarrhea, skin rashes, respiratory issues, congenital disabilities, and neurological disorders.
In addition to causing health problems, environmental racism also has economic consequences for those living in areas with poor air quality or contaminated water sources. People living in areas with high pollution levels may be forced to spend more on medical care for themselves or their families, which can lead to financial strain on low-income families. The high costs of environmental racism are often passed down to low-income people and communities of color (Washington). Communities with high levels of poverty often cannot afford to pay for safer housing or move away from dangerous neighborhoods. As a result, many low-income families are forced to live in homes that continually expose them to harmful pollutants like lead paint and asbestos. Low-income families also have less access to health care than higher-income families, making it more difficult to treat illnesses caused by exposure to environmental hazards like lead paint and asbestos.
Furthermore, community economic insufficiency may be a source of environmental racism because it compromises health-promoting means. For example, residents in low-income communities are more likely to live in neighborhoods with fewer green spaces and higher levels of air pollution (Gee and Payne-Sturges). In addition, such societies often lack access to healthy foods and safe places for physical activity. All these factors can negatively affect the health of the people who live there. In addition, low-income neighborhoods may have higher levels of crime and violence, which can cause stress, anxiety or depression. The pollution disproportionately affects people of color because they often live closer to hazardous waste sites than whites.
Redlining practices are another way that communities can become “sicker” due to environmental racism. Redlining refers to policies that deny credit or insurance based on race or ethnicity. The practice was outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but it persists. In the United States, there are areas where people of color live more than ten years less than whites – a disparity that is even greater for poor and minority groups. Environmental justice advocates believe this difference is because minorities are often exposed to more pollution than white people (Washington). Environmental justice advocates say that these communities should not be forced to endure such high pollution rates when they have contributed little to creating these ecological problems. In the context of health, redlining practices include denying access to affordable housing, lowering the value of houses in minority communities, increasing pollution in low-income and minority neighborhoods, and providing less funding for public services such as schools, hospitals, and transportation. Today redlining is illegal under federal law, but it still exists in many communities across the country. The practice contributes to environmental racism by making it difficult for residents of minority communities – particularly African American ones to move away from contaminated land or water.
The health risks associated with environmental pollution are not necessarily due to race or income level. Whether or not a person has lung cancer has nothing to do with their racial status or income level; it instead depends on individual factors such as smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke as well as genetic factors such as the family history of lung cancer or whether they have other medical conditions that increase their risk for lung cancer such as tuberculosis (Gee and Payne-Sturges). In addition, while there are certainly cases of environmental racism in the United States, it is essential to note that not all environmental hazards are created equal. Some communities are more likely than others to be affected by harmful chemicals and particles because of where they live, but that does not mean that these hazards do not affect everyone else in some way. For example, areas near highways tend to have higher rates of asthma than those located away from major roadways — but that does not mean that everyone near a busy road will develop asthma symptoms. Instead, individuals who already have asthma may be at greater risk for developing lung problems if they live near busy streets due to increased exposure to air pollutants.
Also, environmental racism is not a term that can be applied to all cases of environmental pollution, especially those involving exposure to chemical pollutants such as asbestos and radon gas. The main issue with this argument is that it is difficult to prove that any one company is at fault for releasing these chemicals into the environment. This is because multiple companies make products containing these chemicals and use different methods to dispose of them. Therefore, it is impossible to say that any company or person is responsible for the contamination of the air and water near their property. In these cases, the problem is caused by a specific product or process that affects everyone equally, regardless of race. For example, asbestos causes cancer in every race, gender and age group (Gee and Payne-Sturges). Radon gas can cause lung cancer in anyone who breathes it in high enough concentrations. However, these are not exampling of environmental racism because they do not target a particular race or ethnic group; they affect everyone equally regardless of their background.
Another counterclaim is that environmental justice has become a political football and has been used as an excuse for people to blame others for their problems. This counterclaim argues that some people use it to get revenge on others because they think they are being discriminated against or treated unfairly because they are black or Hispanic. The critics of environmental justice point out that the term “environmental racism” was created by activists, not scientists, who believe that most of the research on this topic is flawed. They also say that many factors determine whether someone will be exposed to pollution or other environmental hazards. For example, some people may live close to a hazardous waste dump because they cannot afford to move away from it or because they did not know about the danger when they moved there (Washington). Also, the argument is based on environmental justice being used as a tool by liberal leftists to further their agenda. Liberals who oppose corporations use the term ‘ ecological racism’ to attack capitalism and increase government control over businesses.
In addition, there is no scientific evidence to support the claims made by environmentalists about environmental racism. Environmentalists believe that there is a relationship between race and exposure to pollutants in the environment, but they do not have any scientific evidence to prove this claim. This can be seen in the case of Love Canal, where it was shown that there were no significant differences between races when it came to exposure to toxic waste (Washington). There were also no differences in health outcomes between races living near Love Canal compared to those living farther away from Love Canal. The problem with this theory is that it does not consider other factors, such as poverty levels and income levels which play a big part in determining whether or not people live near industrial facilities. Despite this lack of evidence, many people believe that environmental racism exists simply because it explains why certain groups are more likely to suffer from specific health problems than others.
Nevertheless, ethnic background is closely connected with area of residence, with people of color and whites frequently residing apart. Varying susceptibility to health hazards is associated with various residence locations (Gee and Payne-Sturges). Local stressors and pollution sources, in particular, contribute to poor health, which is mitigated by neighborhood services. Systemic variables influence the confines within which health promotion is achievable, as well as the current status of stressors, resources, and pollutants in a neighborhood. Minorities usually reside in neighborhoods with a poorer doctor ratio and fewer medications (Gee and Payne-Sturges). In urban minority neighborhoods, medical centers are more inclined to shut. These results imply that stratified areas have systemic limitations in healthcare delivery.
The health effects of living in an area contaminated by environmental racism can be devastating for individuals and entire communities alike. For example, exposure to dangerous chemicals such as lead or asbestos can cause long-term health problems such as cancer or learning disabilities in young children who may come into contact with these substances through their homes or schools. In addition, many people who live in areas close to these industrial sites tend to suffer from higher asthma rates due to breathing in polluted air, which can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and even death if not treated properly. The health of these people is at risk because of their exposure to environmental pollution and other factors that lead to poor health outcomes. The concept of environmental justice is also essential for understanding issues related to environmental racism. It is based on the idea that everyone should have equal access to crucial ecological goods and services. It is the belief that individuals are all responsible for protecting the environment but that their actions must be fair and equitable.
Washington, Harriet A. A terrible thing to waste: Environmental racism and its assault on the American mind. Hachette UK, 2019.
Gee, Gilbert C., and Devon C. Payne-Sturges. “Environmental health disparities: a framework integrating psychosocial and environmental concepts.” Environmental health perspectives 112.17 (2004): 1645-1653.