Pollution, Race and the Search for Justice

African-Americans are more likely to live near landfills and industrial plants that pollute water and air and erode quality of life. Because of this, more than half of the 9 million people living near hazardous waste sites are people of color, and black Americans are three times more likely to die from exposure to air pollutants than their white counterparts.

The statistics provide evidence for what advocates call “environmental racism.” Communities of color aren’t suffering by chance, they say. Rather, these conditions are the result of decades of indifference from people in power. Last summer Nexus Media went on a tour of the Deep South to talk with these communities about the pollution they deal with every day.

The tour started in St. James Parish in Louisiana, which sits in an area known as “Cancer Alley,” a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where dozens of refineries and industrial facilities are fueling a public health crisis, according to locals. Local leaders changed St. James Parish from a residential zone to an industrial zone with the promise of creating jobs, but 15 industrial installations later, the people in St. James have only gotten a piece of that promise. According to the EPA’s National Air Toxics Assessment, St. James and the surrounding areas have elevated cancer rates—in nearby St. John the Baptist Parish, cancer rates are some of the highest in the country.

Frustrated by pollution in his community, Pastor Harry Joseph of the Mount Triumph Baptist Church in St. James has been fighting to prevent the Bayou Bridge pipeline from being built in his community. Last week saw a big win in the fight, with a federal judge revoking the permit. 03-05-18

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