The Unspoken Truth: Environmental Injustice

Many of us in the United States have grown accustomed to the typical lifestyle of the 21st century, which includes daily activities such as purchasing food at the grocery store, having indoor plumbing, consistently throwing away trash, and using oil for transportation and electricity. 

What we often fail to realize, due to being unaware of the impacts of these actions, is that not only is the planet being drained of its’ resources, it is becoming extremely hazardous to live in. 

The actions of privileged people are affecting poor, minority communities, who do not have equal access to such luxuries. In sum, the people who are contributing the least to climate change and environmental challenges are the ones being most affected by its impacts.

“Environmental injustice can be defined as the disproportionate exposure of communities of color and the poor to pollution, and its concomitant effects on health and environment, as well as the unequal environmental protection and environmental quality provided through laws, regulations, governmental programs, enforcement, and policies” (1)

People in power are abusing minority communities across the nation in pursuit of profit and economic benefit.

Below are some environmental challenges that minority communities are facing:

Water

Flint, Michigan, the country’s poorest city for its size, with 40% of people living below the poverty line, has not had access to clean water since 2014 when the city changed its source of water to spend less money.  The water from this new source eroded the pipes in Flint and the water that runs through these pipes has become heavily contaminated with lead.

There are some of the impacts this has caused to the people of Flint:

Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO)

A CAFO is a factory farm that housing a huge amount of animals in a concentrated space. Many CAFOs have been known to have poor waste management and widespread use of pesticides. A majority of CAFOs are located in low-income communities, and with improper waste management, the manure runoff is affecting the community’s air and water.

Here are some of the impacts of living close to a CAFO: 

Flies on a neighboring resident’s house.
A cow knee-deep in manure.
  • CAFO waste is usually not treated to reduce disease-causing pathogens, nor to remove chemicals, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, or other pollutants. (3)
  • Infestations of flies, rats, and other vermin are commonplace around CAFOs and therefore around CAFO neighbors. (3)
  • When phosphorus and nitrogen are over-applied to fields, the nutrients can move through the soil into field tiles to surface water, or through the soil to groundwater and drinking water. (3)                                                                                             
  • Community health impacts of factory farms: Steve Wing at TEDxManhattan 2013
Landfills

Alabama has become a state known for it’s dumping grounds. It has over 173 operating landfills, which is more than 3 times the amount of New York City whose populations is 4 times more. In the city of Uniontown, a 1,000-acre landfill with trash being dumped from over 30 states, was built over a historic graveyard which had been given to the people in 1858. The people of Uniontown are suffering tremendously because of this injustice, some of its impacts include:

  • Gravestones are constantly being moved around disrespecting the history and people that lie beneath the landfill
  • People are stating that it smells like “25,000 people taking a dump around your house.” (4)
  • The residents have reported increases in illnesses such as asthma, cancer, E. Coli, and in worst cases, death.
  • How Uniontown, Alabama, Became Victim of Environmental Injustice | NowThis
What We Can Do To Help

It is imperative that we pay attention to the people who are being impacted by our daily actions. We must look at our system and understand the faults that lay beneath it. Our society has become driven by money and profits while billions of people are suffering at the hands of such large corporations and politicians. We should be on the road to a cleaner, greener, and kinder world.

Sources:
(1) https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/pdf/10.1289/ehp.02110s2161
(2) https://www.nrdc.org/stories/flint-water-crisis-everything-you-need-know
(3) https://www.sierraclub.org/michigan/why-are-cafos-bad
(4) https://grist.org/article/were-not-a-dump-poor-alabama-towns-struggle-under-the-stench-of-toxic-landfills/
(5) https://sraproject.org/factory-farms-destroy-communities/
Photo source: Jake May/The Flint Journal/AP
Illustration by: Ricardo Levins Morales