U.S: Pollution has been killing historically powerless Americans for decades – By Mohamed Hamaludin

 — By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

The existential threat which global warming poses to the human race seems finally to be gaining the attention it deserves but not so another aspect of the environmental crisis: powerless Americans dying from lethal pollution of the water, air and land. Governmental authorities are directly to blame.

Lead pollution of the drinking water of residents of Flint, Michigan, started in 2014 when state-appointed officials switched the water supply to the Flint River and exposed between 6,000 and 12,000 children to serious health problems. At least 2,500 water lines remain polluted five years later.       

In Reserve, Louisiana, which, according to an ongoing Guardian series, is probably the most environmentally toxic place in the country, parts are variously nicknamed “Cancer Alley” and “Death Alley” because of health problems attributed to chemical plants.

In Broward County, residents have protested for years against the city of Fort Lauderdale-owned Wingate Road Municipal Incinerator and Landfill on Northwest 31st Avenue which went into service in 1966 and was forced to close in 1978 because of health concerns and was designated a Superfund site.

In Miami, the city built a trash incinerator in West Grove, a block from George Washington Carver school, in 1925. Residents protested but, Miami New Times reported, it was not until 1974, after school desegregation and whites moved into the area and complained, that the incinerator was demolished.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, then principal of Skyway Elementary School in the Carol City neighborhood, led a successful campaign by her students that forced the closure of the $25 million Agripost outfit built across the street. Miami-Dade County granted a zoning variance in 1998 to allow the plant to collect and convert waste into compost for agricultural use.

The city of Clewiston put “a garbage transfer station that nobody wanted” in Harlem, Peter Mitchell reported in the Orlando Sentinel in 1994. The state built its first hazardous waste injection well in Mulberry, Polk County. Also, a Superfund site was declared in a section of Pensacola “where most of the black children play.”

Eddie Junsay, writing on the website 350.com, said activism against this form of racism gained momentum in 1982 when Warren County, North Carolina, was chosen as site for a landfill for toxic soil. Protests failed to stop the project but galvanized the drive for environmental justice. Five years later, the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, then director of the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, issued a report, “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States,” which concluded “that race was the most significant factor in the location of hazardous waste sites,” Junsay wrote.

Robert Doyle Bullard, a Texas Southern University distinguished professor, who maintains a website on environmental injustice, notes that 2019 is the 40th anniversary of the landmark “Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corp.” lawsuit in Houston, the first of its kind “to challenge discriminatory siting of a waste facility under civil rights law.”

Overall, Bullard says, African Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live where industrial pollution poses the greatest health hazards and are “over-represented” among people living within a three-mile radius of the nation’s 1,388 Superfund sites, breathe 38 percent more polluted air than whites and more than 68 percent live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, with all the attendant respiratory problems.

Mike Ludwig reported in Truthout.org that the protests against “Death Valley” and the pollution from the Dupont-Denka chemical plant have been going on for 30 years and have intensified following proposals to build more petrochemical plants in the area.

Environmental justice is a component of the Green New Deal proposed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Ludwig reported that some of the activists behind it have long been advocates for the cause. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, Democratic presidential candidate, announced in July support for the Green New Deal and specifically its environmental justice component.

“From the toxic air embattling Cancer Alley in Louisiana and Asthma Alley in the Bronx to the unsafe drinking water in California’s San Joaquin Valley and Flint, Michigan, the nation’s bedrock environmental protections have not stopped front-line communities from continually falling through the cracks,” Harris said.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another candidate, embraces the 17 principles of environmental justice drafted by the National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit – in 1991. She would elevate environmental justice to the executive and federal level, the Guardian reported. She would also have the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council report directly to the White House, expand the EPA’s civil rights office and its Office of Environmental Justice and direct the former to more aggressively pursue cases of environmental discrimination: nine out of 10 complaints between 1997 and 2013 were rejected, the Guardian reported.

Environmental justice should not be a partisan issue but relief will not come President Donald Trump. He has been scaling back regulations to curb environmental racism. On breaking away from fossil fuel, he said in August, “I feel that the United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet…  I’m not going to lose that wealth, I’m not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills, which frankly aren’t working too well.”

But, for millions in America, one person’s wealth is another person’s death.

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every week or two for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com

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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On October 18, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    Indeed
    One persons wealth
    Other persons health

    Usually after horse has bolted

    Karma

    Kamtan

  • Trevor  On October 18, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    Flint, Michigan has to be one of the worst environmental disasters in the USA, similar to oil spills.

    And people say Guyana tap pipes been bad?

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