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Racism and the Environment- by Priyanka Prem

Racism and the Environment- by Priyanka Prem

We cannot talk about environmental issues without taking into consideration the African American lives that have been affected by them. Many studies have shown the grave impact on black communities that are living in or close to towns and cities that have been environmentally contaminated. 

What is Environmental Racism?

Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. Environmental racism refers to the institutional rules, regulations, policies, or government and/or corporate decisions that deliberately target certain communities for locally undesirable land uses and lax enforcement of zoning and environmental laws, resulting in communities being disproportionately exposed to toxic and hazardous waste based upon race. Benjamin Chavis had defined the term as one who neglects a specific race when laws and regulations have been made in support of our environment. It also fails to include people of color in environmental leadership positions.

Black Americans are three times more likely to die from health issues related to pollution.

African American communities are commonly situated near industrial or landfill sites. These communities are typically in more rural areas and the people living there are exposed to more pollutants. Many environmental groups have neglected the African American population in their effort to implement new policies to curb the impact of climate change. Nearly 9 million African Americans live in regions that are hazardous and contain toxic waste from landfill sites. Power plant and industrial companies tend to be situated or build in predominantly black communities. These power plants can emit harmful pollutants in the air and can affect the people living in those areas. 

People of color are more likely to be exposed to a 38% higher level of nitrogen dioxide on average, than white people


The environmental catastrophes that occurred in Flint Michigan and Louisiana are prime examples of environmental disasters that severely impacted the Black communities in those areas.

Cancer Alley

St. James Parish, Louisiana is home to “Cancer Alley'', a series of communities, that line the banks of the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge (The parish overall is 50 percent black.) There is 1 petrochemical plant for every 656 residents. In the parish’s Fifth District,  (which is 86% black) the community has 1 petrochemical plant for every 235 residents. Dozens of chemicals released from the area’s petrochemical facilities are known carcinogens, and in two census tracts in St. James, the cancer risk from air pollution exceeds what the Environmental Protection Agency says is the “upper limit of acceptability.”

Flint’s Water Crisis

Flint is a small city in Michigan with a  57% population of African Americans, most of whom are poverty-stricken. An emergency manager, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, had the cash-strapped city's water supply changed from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The water was completely riddled with toxic waste which seeped into their drinking and bathwater, corroded their pipes, and elevated blood lead levels. A government-appointed civil rights commission in Michigan said "the people of Flint have been subjected to unprecedented harm and hardship, much of it caused by structural and systemic discrimination and racism that have corroded your city, your institutions, and your water pipes, for generations."

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina is another calamity that brought light to the environmental racial injustices in our society. The surrounding cities of New Orleans are small, poor black communities that were struck down by this environmental disaster. The worst part of the disaster was that the response level was extremely slow towards the lower-income sect of the state. The blatant discrimination was immensely felt by the black people in those communities.

How can you help?

As a society, we must be prepared to restore our environment while taking into consideration the lives of those living in these industrial areas. Restoring and preserving our environment is the best way to give people a chance to live in healthier environments. We must not allow factories to continue to emit hazardous fumes that are unsafe for people. You can do your part to fight for environmental justice by holding elected officials accountable, and demanding better environmental protections. You have a choice in what products you purchase. Make sure you are purchasing environmentally friendly products. By using only environmentally friendly products we are protecting both the environment and the people living in these industrial areas. 

Together we do have the power to change the world! 


Priyanka Prem is a guest blogger for the Give Back Goods Mindful Monday Blog. She is a college sophomore at the University of Texas at Dallas. Priyanka is majoring in Neuroscience (Pre-Med Track). She loves traveling and learning about new cultures. In her free time, she enjoys taking long hikes and painting. Priyanka is the founder of the Operation Smile Chapter at her university. The foundation aims to promote global awareness to help children with facial deformities who don’t have access to proper surgical treatments. Through these blogs, Priyanka wants to promote sustainable living for the betterment of the future.

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