Tackling Environmental Racism: Part 2

by Kratika Tandon

You may recall that in the December issue of Giving Voice we published an article introducing the topic of environmental racism. It has been established that there is a disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on marginalized communities. This results in drastic health hazards and an increase in systemic racism. Now, let’s discuss the causes and potential solutions.

First, problematic policies allow environmental racism to exist. We can see how this issue manifested itself in Flint, Michigan, where the Flint River served as a waste disposal site for over a century (National Resource Defense Council, Nov. 8, 2018). In 2013, the city switched from piping treated water in favor of a cheaper alternative: pumping corrosive water from the Flint River. For 18 months, this governmental policy poisoned over 9,000 children, resulting in the Flint water crisis.

We often incorrectly assume that an equal safety threshold applies to everyone. A 2016 University of Michigan study states that minority regions often bear the brunt of much of the country’s toxic waste, proving that this issue is one of race, not solely of economic disparity. While wealthier communities have the money and influence to organize effective opposition, marginalized communities usually have fewer means at their disposal.

People of color are 79% more likely to live in high pollution areas (2019 Proceedings of the National Academy of Science). These areas, in turn, suffer significantly higher rates of breathing issues in comparison to the rest of the city. Locally, Ryan Hidden of the Peoria Sierra Club discovered that predominantly Black neighborhoods are located next to the Edwards Coal Plant. The health of marginalized populations does not deserve to be jeopardized like this. Environmental racism is an equal rights issue with real-world devastating consequences. We can focus on two reasonable solutions: supporting equal policy and public outcry. 

First, we need consistent and effective policy change. Drafting new legislation and taking it to DC is a major first step. According to congress.gov, the Environmental Justice Act introduced on October 27th, 2017 by Senator Cory Booker explicitly requires “federal agencies to address environmental justice.” We must endorse government officials like Booker who prioritize this matter and throw our support behind bills that are being introduced. 

Furthermore, we need to organize movements and make our voices heard. The city of Greeley, Colorado offers a good example of this. When an oil company opened up 24 fracking wells within 1,000 feet of an elementary school, reporters went to investigate. According to the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, the land next to Bella Romero Academy, a school with mostly low-income and Latinx students, was chosen as a major fracking site because residents did not have the resources to fight back. However, after protestors gathered, ensuing media coverage, and lawsuits, the company took a step back. This incident illustrates the results of what 

can happen if residents rise up in order to speak out. 

You may never have heard of environmental racism. It is a largely unrepresented issue with hazardous consequences. After examining the problem and identifying its causes, we can finally take some steps in the right direction. The Warren protests that I wrote about in the December 2020 issue of Giving Voice were among the first examples of marginalized populations fighting against environmental injustice, but they certainly will not be the last. Get involved with community advocacy groups. Stay aware when electing politicians to office. Raise your voice and fight to be heard. The right to live in an unpolluted environment belongs to all.

About Kratika Tandon

Kratika Tandon is an incoming freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is majoring in biology and graduating with a minor in environmental economics and policy. She graduated from Dunlap High School as class valedictorian. Tandon is incredibly passionate about sustainability. As such, she is interested in many different career paths that involve helping the environment. She is most interested in writing about the subjects of environmental issues, social justice, life during a pandemic, and racial equity. She is proficient in informative and expository writing as well as public speaking. Tandon was a part of her high school’s speech team for four years. This past season, she competed in two events at the state championship tournament: original oratory and informative speaking. She wrote and perfected these speeches on her own, both tackling specific topics dealing with the environment. Tandon was also the president of her school’s local Interact Club. She possesses great leadership, communication, and teamwork skills. She is participating with Giving Voice because she wants to use her voice and writing to inspire others and facilitate change.

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