« PreviousContinue »
The minority portion of the population in communities with existing incinerators is 89 percent higher than the national average
Communities where incinerators are proposed have minority populations 60 percent higher than the national average
Average income in communities with existing incinerators is 15 percent less than the national average
Property values in communities that host incinerators are 38 percent lower than the national average
In communities where incinerators are proposed, average property values are 35 percent lower than the national average.
Houston's population, 82 percent of those who would dismiss this pattern the solid waste sites (public and
as a function of social class, it is private) were located in African
important to note that there has never American neighborhoods.
been a shortage of poor white African American neighborhoods communities in Region 4 (not that from South Central Los Angeles to anyone is advocating siting waste Southeast-side Chicago to Rahway, facilities in low-income white areas). New Jersey, are vulnerable to waste Siting disparities are not unique to facility siting. As recently as 1991, African American communities. In Residents Involved in Saving the
California, the mostly Latino East Los Environment, or RISE (a biracial
Angeles and Kettleman City have come community group), challenged the under siege from companies trying to King and Queen County (Virginia)
site hazardous waste incinerators. board of supervisors for selecting a Kettleman City, a rural farmworker 420-acre site in a mostly African
community of perhaps 1,500 residents, American community for a regional of which 95 percent are Latino, already landfill. From 1969 to 1990, all three has a hazardous waste landfill. With of the county-run landfills had been the aid of the California Rural Legal located in mostly African American Assistance Foundation, local residents communities.
have contested the construction of the Siting inequities are not unique to hazardous waste incinerator. (See facilities where household garbage is article on page 47). dumped. The findings I recently
Siting inequities are national in published in Dumping in Dixie
scope. The Commission for Racial revealed that African Americans bear a Justice's landmark Toxic Wastes and disparate burden in the siting of
Race study found race to be the single hazardous waste landfills and
most important factor (i.e., more incinerators in South Louisiana's
important than income, home "Cancer Alley" and Alabama's
ownership rate, and property values) "blackbelt." The nation's largest
in the location of abandoned toxic commercial hazardous waste landfill, waste sites. The 1987 study also found the “Cadillac of dumps," is located in that: Emelle, Alabama. African Americans
Three out of five African make up 90 percent of Emelle's
Americans live in communities with population and 75 percent of the
abandoned toxic waste sites residents in Sumter County. The Emelle landfill receives wastes from • Sixty percent of African Americans Superfund sites and from all 48
(15 million) live in communities with contiguous states.
one or more abandoned toxic waste Few government studies have
sites examined siting inequities. A notable
Three of the five largest exception is a 1983 U.S. General
commercial hazardous waste landfills Accounting Office (GAO) study. GAO
are located in predominately African found four off-site commercial
American or Latino communities and hazardous waste landfills in EPA's
account for 40 percent of the nation's Region 4 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia,
total estimated landfill capacity in Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina,
1986 South Carolina, and Tennessee). Three of the four landfills were located in
African Americans are heavily mostly African American communities, overrepresented in the population of although African Americans made up
cities with the largest number of only one-fifth of the population in the
abandoned toxic waste sites, which region.
include Memphis, St. Louis, Houston, Siting inequities in EPA's Region 4
Cleveland, Chicago, and Atlanta. have not disappeared. In 1992, African
Communities with hazardous waste Americans still make up about
incinerators generally have large one-fifth of the population in the
minority populations, low incomes, region. However, the region's two
and low property values. A 1990 currently operating off-site commercial Greenpeace report, Playing with Fire, hazardous waste landfills are located
confirmed what many environmental in zip codes where African Americans justice activists had suspected all are a majority of the population. For
Native American lands have become prime targets for waste disposal proposals. More than three dozen reservations have been targeted for landfills and incinerators. Because of the special quasi-sovereign status of Indian nations, companies have attempted to skirt state regulations.
In 1991, the Choctaws in Philadelphia, Mississippi, defeated a plan to locate a 466-acre hazardous waste landfill in their midst. In the same year, a Connecticut company proposed to build a 6,000-acre municipal landfill on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota-a project dubbed “Dances with Garbage.” The Good Road Coalition, an alliance of grass-roots groups, blocked the proposal to build the giant municipal landfill on Sioux lands.
A new form of environmental activism has emerged in communities of color. Activists have begun to challenge discriminatory facility siting, biased local land-use policies, illegal redlining practices, housing discrimination, and other problems that threaten public safety. People of color have formed groups and begun to build a national movement against what they defined as environmental injustice. A national policy is needed to begin addressing environmental inequities. O
by Ivette Perfecto
: AMONG THE LEAST PROTECTED
They Suffer the Most from Pesticides
World Resources Institute estimates that
Copyright John W. Emmons. 313,000 farm workers in the United States hile many people are aware of suffer from pesticide-related illnesses each
EPA was recently able to provide full the dangers of pesticide residues year.
safety assurance for only six. in food and the detrimental effects of
Those who suffer most directly from pesticides on the environment, few
the chemical dependency of U.S. appreciate the serious health hazards
agriculture are farm workers, who are that pesticides pose to farm workers By EPA's own estimate, each year U.S. working in the fields while some of and their families. The fact is that farm farmers use about 1.2 billion pounds of the most toxic substances known to workers are disproportionately affected pesticides at an expenditure of $4.6 humans are sprayed. The World by the pesticides that characterize billion. More than 600 active
Resources Institute has estimated that agriculture in the United States. ingredients are combined with other
as many as 313,000 farm workers in The United States is the largest ingredients to form approximately the United States may suffer from single user of pesticides in the world. 35,000 different commercial
pesticide-related illnesses each year. formulations. Yet, full evaluation of Another source estimates that 800 to (Dr. Perfecto is an Assistant Professor their hazards lags far behind the
1,000 farm workers die each year as a at the University of Michigan's School development of new products. Less direct consequence of pesticide of Natural Resources. Valásquez is than 10 percent of the products in
exposure. President of the Farm Labor
current use have been fully tested for Ninety percent of the approximately Organizing Committee in Toledo, potential health effects; of the 600
two million hired farm workers in the Ohio.)
active ingredients in these products, United States are people of color: The
majority are Chicanos, followed by workers surveyed said they had Puerto Ricans, Caribbean blacks, and
experienced one or more symptoms of African Americans. This primarily pesticide poisoning while at work. In minority population has among the addition, many growers do not provide least protected jobs of all workers. workers with protective masks or Farm workers are intentionally
gloves and do not inform workers excluded from the Occupational Safety when and what chemicals are being and Health Act (OSHA), which
used. governs health and safety standards in Furthermore, evidence indicates that the workplace; from the Fair Labor for some acutely toxic pesticides, Standards Act, which governs
extant protective measures are minimum wages and child labor; and ineffective. A case in point is the most importantly, from the National
deadly pesticide ethyl parathion, a Labor Relations Act, which guarantees leading cause of farm worker the right to join a union and bargain poisoning in the United States and collectively.
worldwide. In 1986, EPA found that The exclusion of farm workers from parathion caused poisoning among all OSHA regulations has particular
categories of workers who came in relevance to the pesticide issue. Under contact with it. In addition, EPA OSHA's principles of environmental admitted that parathion was associated hygiene, when workers are exposed to with unacceptable risks to farm a toxic substance in the workplace the workers and that poisonings occurred priority course of action is to eliminate even under the most stringent the substance from the workplace protective conditions. In other words, altogether or to replace it with a little or no margin of safety exists for non-toxic or less toxic substitute. If parathion use. Nevertheless, it is still this is impossible, the option next in legally used on nine major crops in the priority is to separate the workers from United States. the toxic substance. The last option Parathion is only one of many usually involves provisioning workers acutely toxic pesticides belonging to with some protective measures (e.g., the organophosphate family. These protective clothing, masks, glasses, pesticides came into wide use etc.).
approximately 20 years ago, when Not being covered by OSHA, and environmental awareness called for therefore not able to legally petition limitations on persistent pesticides the Occupational Safety and Health that were contaminating the Administration, farm workers are environment and damaging wildlife. forced to petition EPA, which is the Many of the persistent pesticides agency in charge of regulating
belong to the organochloride family pesticides. But such petitioning offers and have been associated with chronic few formal legal remedies, leaving health effects, including cancer, farm workers virtually unprotected reproductive malfunctions, birth against pesticide hazards. Under the defects, and a broad range of Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide, and developmental and behavioral growth Fungicide Act, which is intended to problems. The organophosphates, on regulate pesticide use, “re-entry” times the other hand, degrade much faster (the interval that must elapse between and therefore reduced the risk for the application of a pesticide and wildlife and for consumers. workers' re-entry into the fields) have However, for farm workers the been set for just 12 pesticides.
switch from organochlorines to Moreover, there is no provision to organophosphates meant exposure to assure that these regulations specifying more acutely toxic pesticides, since re-entry times of either 24 or 48 hours many of these rapidly degradable are enforced.
pesticides (parathion is one of them) In fact, it is not uncommon to see are characterized by acute toxicity, farmers spraying while workers are in which can cause dizziness; vomiting; the field. A study conducted by the irritation of the eye, upper respiratory Florida Rural Legal Service in 1980 tract, and skin; and death. There is an reported that 48 percent of more than irony here that has not escaped the 400 farm workers interviewed had
attention of farm workers: The new been sprayed at least once while
wave of environmental consciousness, harvesting. Seventy-five percent of the which forced welcome changes in
production technologies, may have
In the past, the EPA has operated under the assumption that these chemicals are essential for high productivity in U.S. agriculture. This notion was recently challenged by a 1989 report of the National Research Council, which concluded that low input agriculture was not significantly less productive than chemically intensive agriculture. As noted in this report, pesticides are not the only option for pest control. Integrated Pest Management, for example, is a strategy that combines alternative methods of pest control (including biological and cultural controls) to achieve a significant reduction in chemical pesticide applications.
Public awareness of these issues is burgeoning, and, consequentially, pressure on agencies like EPA is likely to intensify. Farm workers, the vast majority of whom are people of color, are building their consciousness and are taking their place alongside industrial workers in demanding a safe workplace. Environmentalists, heeding the call for environmental justice, are being challenged not to stand by and allow environmental policies that solve problems for some, yet leave others at risk-and they are responding. Consumers, while insisting on safe produce, are increasingly unwilling to allow others to be poisoned in their stead.
All this is occurring in the context of new revelations that chemical pesticides have not been all that successful in the first place and that alternatives are already available which could lead to a new agriculture. Such an agriculture-call it sustainable or ecological or low input or simply rational-is now on the horizon. The time seems ripe to reject the anachronistic notion that chemical poisons must be part and parcel of modern agriculture and redefine the meaning of "modern" to include the health and safety of farm workers, farmers, consumers, and the environment. O
HEALTH CONCERNS FOR
certain Northwest tribes, and Michigan
average fish consumption.
The Michigan Great Lakes tribes of Patrick C. the Bay Mills, Grand Traverse, and West
Sault Ste. Marie bands of Chippewa all have a long and well documented
fishing culture. When they ceded the Government Assumptions Are Much Too Low
lands of Michigan in the Treaty of 1836, they carefully reserved their most important resource, the Great Lakes fishery. (These rights were recently upheld by the courts.)
With this resource so highly valued both culturally and economically by these tribes, we would expect to find high levels of fish
consumption—especially on the Bay Ottawa/Chippewa
Mills reservation, where high levels of Indians, members poverty prevail and subsistence of the Grand
small-skiff fishermen are common. Traverse Band, Even for the commercial fishing sector net fish in Lake of the economy, it has been well Michigan.
established that much extra fish is distributed among crew members for subsistence consumption (as part of labor compensation) and as part of cultural ritual and tradition.
In addition to these historical and cultural indicators, we have evidence that off-reservation Native Americans in Michigan consume more than
whites or than other minorities. Inter-Tribal Fisheries and Assessment Program photo.
Off-reservation Indians do need state
fishing licenses, and in our recent here is concern that Native have disproportionally high fish
statewide survey of consumption by Americans may consume much consumption levels.
Michigan sport fishermen, we picked greater amounts of Great Lakes fish
One study of a traditionally oriented
up a significant subsample of than the general population and hence subsistence tribe in Alaska indicates off-reservation Native Americans. The be at greater risk for dietary exposure high levels of fish consumption; and a sample was spread over 18 randomly to toxic chemicals.
fine study of the Grassy Narrows band drawn cohorts, from mid-January to To date, most studies of fish of Ojibwa in Ontario, Canada,
early June 1988; respondents were consumption have looked at licensed indicates that they were exposed
asked to recall detailed sport fishermen; they inadvertently through fish consumption to higher fish-consumption patterns for the exclude reservation-based Indian
levels of mercury from a spill than was seven-day period prior to filling out subsistence fishermen, who, by treaty the surrounding white community.
the survey. rights, are not required to obtain state However, there is scant evidence on The current State of Michigan fishing licenses. The few studies that the fish consumption patterns of standard used to regulate point have been completed so far provide Native Americans in the lower 48
discharge of toxic chemicals into only indirect evidence that Michigan states, and the applicability of these surface waters (Michigan Rule 1057) Great Lakes reservation Indians may northern-tribe studies to southern
assumes a fish consumption rate of 6.5 tribes could be questionable.
grams/person/day. The formula is very (Dr. West is Associate Professor of
Not all tribes may be as traditionally complex. However, the important thing Natural Resource/Environmental resource based as the Alaska and
to emphasize here is that the greater Sociology and Samuel T. Dana
Ontario tribes studied, and certainly the fish consumption assumed in the Professor of Outdoor Recreation at the not all are fishery based. The Blackfeet formula, the tighter the standard School of Natural Resources,
in Montana, for example, traditionally becomes in other words, the lower University of Michigan.)
refuse to eat fish. But others, such as the levels are set for toxics permitted
to be discharged by industrial and municipal drain pipes. If assumed consumption is too low, toxic emissions may be permitted that are a danger to public health.
In our study, the average consumption for the full sample was 18.3 grams/person/day, quite a bit higher than the 6.5 gram assumption currently used in Rule 1057. Further, when the sample was broken down by ethnic groups, non-reservation Native Americans consumed 24.3 grams/person/day compared to 20.3 grams/person/day for other minorities, and 17.9 grams/person/day for whites. In an analysis involving multiple variables, we found that middle-age Native Americans had the highest rates of consumption of all Native Americans, or 30.6 grams/person/day.
We would expect on-reservation subsistence fish consumption to be even higher than these levels, especially on poorer reservations, such as Bay Mills, where poverty dictates subsistence fishing as a protein source that is also sanctioned by traditional culture. For all Great Lakes tribes with high fish consumption levels, there is strong reason for concern for the public health of the reservation. By way of illustration, studies have found a high correlation between high levels of consumption of Great Lakes fish and high levels of PCBs in the blood of the
far, scientists have examined these
In the United States, excluding
the figure is 62 percent, and for
Hispanics, 71 percent. Population
group distributions were found to be
similar for the other pollutants cited
above. L. A. Nieves
These differences in potential exposure to pollutants may be due in
part to minority population Minorities Are
distributions across regions. Hispanics,
for example, are more concentrated in Disproportionately
the West, where there is a greater Exposed
tendency than elsewhere for the
different regional concentrations of
Ascientists have been studying the all of the differences in their potential relative potential for exposure of
exposure to reduced air quality. Not minority population groups to
only are percentages of minorities substandard outdoor air quality. The living in substandard air quality areas studies have focused on areas
higher for the country as a whole, but identified by EPA as failing to attain they are higher when the four U.S. national ambient air quality standards. census regions are considered
Under the Clean Air Act, EPA has separately. established standards for ground-level For example, 50 percent of whites in ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur
the Northeast census region live in dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead, and areas with excessive carbon monoxide. particulate matter and annually
In contrast, 85 percent of northeastern identifies areas having excess levels of African Americans and 88 percent of these pollutants. These so-called
northeastern Hispanics reside in those “nonattainment” areas generally
areas. consist of counties of many square
In 1990, 437 of the 3,109 counties miles, and residents' exposure to air and independent cities in the United pollution surely varies depending on States failed to meet at least one of the where individuals live and work
EPA ambient air quality standards. Of within an area. Nevertheless, the racial these counties, 136 had excessive and socioeconomic makeup of the levels of two or more pollutants, 29 population in these areas can imply exceeded standards for three or more differences in potential exposure to pollutants, seven exceeded standards pollutants and may suggest directions for four or more pollutants, and one for research and remedial action. So exceeded standards for five pollutants.
To what extent do the proportions of (Wernette is a sociologist and Nieves is whites, African Americans, and an economist in the Environmental Hispanics living in these counties Assessment and Information Systems differ? As the bar chart shows, 57 Division at Argonne National
percent of all whites, 65 percent of Laboratory. The research described in African Americans, and 80 percent of this article has been supported under Hispanics live in the 437 counties with contract with the U.S. Department of substandard air quality. Out of the Energy, Office of Minority Economic whole population, a total of 33 percent Impact)
of whites, 50 percent of African
In sum, a great deal of concern is warranted for the health of Michigan Great Lakes Indians based on studies done elsewhere; based on our sport fish consumption study that includes off-reservation Indians in Michigan; and based on studies tying high Great Lakes fish consumption with high toxic loads in the human body. However, direct studies of on-reservation fish consumption are badly needed for Great Lakes tribes as well as for those in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. A major study is about to get underway in the Pacific Northwest, and Michigan tribes have approached EPA about the need for studies on their reservations. These will be key studies not only for assessing the potential impact of fish consumption on the health of Great Lakes tribes but also in terms of protecting their Great Lakes fishing rights. O