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Robert Bullard, UNEQUAL PROTECTION (Sierra Club Books, 1994)

From Subject
"laura field" <llfield@ilstu.edur> Review: UNEQUAL PROTECTION
"james otterstein" <jrotter@ilstu.edu> RE: UNEQUAL PROTECTION (Otterstein)

Date: Mon, 1 May 1995 02:11:09 -0500 
From: "laura field" <llfield@ilstu.edu> 

Robert Bullard, UNEQUAL PROTECTION (Sierra Club Books, 1994)

Reviewed by:
Laura Field
Illinois State University
April 30, 1995

The environmental problem that has stirred the greatest public concern in the past few years is the issue of hazardous substances. Through accidents, spills, and improper disposal, these substances have threatened public health, and in the most extreme cases, forced the abandonment of entire towns. What makes this problem hard to solve is that there are a variety of ways in which people can be exposed. What makes the problem most frightening is that, the victims were oftem exposed to these hazardous substances for long periods, before the problem was discovered. But according to Robert Bullard, white Americans have less to fear, because communities of color are the one's who bear a disproportionate burden of the nation's pollution.

Following the 1992 "First People of Color Environmental Summit", Bullard and other activists compiled a collection of essays entitled UNEQUAL JUSTICE. Their work was an attempt tp provide examples of the environmental disparities that exist between white communities and those of color. The collection offers details on environmental racism that spans from Louisiana's "Cancer Alley" to Chicago's South Side. There is little doubt that the studies included were truthful accounts of communities that have suffered. The problem, however, is that the studies chosen seem to have been "selectively" included. That is, specific incidences were chose to support the arguement that environmental racism truly exists.

One of the areas selectively chosen to be included were those communities located along Louisiana's industrial corridor. This area has come to be known as "Cancer Alley". Located along the Mississppi River, this location has served as a magnet for petrochemical companies. Mainly because of its access to barges and its capacity for disposal of chemical waste. In the beginning, many elected leaders of color thought that bringing in high-risk poisoning industries was better than unemployment. Some political leaders continue to argue that the good has outweighed the bad. Many residents, however, disagree. This corrider has been named "Cancer Alley" because the air, ground and water are full of carcinogens, mutagens, and embryotoxins. Some eighteen petrochemical plants are crammed into a 9.5-square mile area. Companies such as Vulcan, Borden Chemical, Shell, and others have discharged 196 million pounds of pollutants into the water and air. The majority of those working and residing near these industries are African American.

More than 100 refineries and petrochemical plants line an 80 mile-strip along the lower reaches of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. A quarter of America's petrochemicals are produced in the corridor. According to Pat Bryant, executive director of the Gulf Coast Tenant Association, "The placement of toxic facilities in African American areas goes back hundreds of years" (281). It is furthered stated that "people living within a mile of the plants have a 4.5 percent greater chance of contracting lung cancer than those who live one to three miles away" (116). Although it's difficult to refute the fact that African Americans in the corridor have been exposed to industrial toxins more than white residents, is race the real factor here? I would suggest that other factors play a more important role. First, it would seem that direct and open access to the Gulf of Mexico, particulary for industries in the oil refinery business, would be extemely important. Secondly, local politicians openly admit that they actively pursued these industries to settle in their districts. The reality that Louisiana is not an extremely wealthy state probably provided a great deal of incentive. The fact is, large industries can stimulate both the local and state economy by improving the tax base and increasing employment opportunities. It is easy to make the assumption that environmental racism was the cause of "CANCER ALLEY". Yet, the poor socio-economic status of the residents residing along the Mississippi, appears to have been a more significant factor in this case.

Another community that was selectively chosen to be included was Chicago's South Side. Chicago, the third largest city in the nation has more than 92 percent of the cities 1.1 million African Americans living in racially segregated areas. Tha Altgeld Gardens housing project, located on the South Side, is one of these segregated communities. Altgeld Gardens is described as being surrounded by hazardous waste landfills, toxic waste incinerators, sewage treatment facilities, and other polluting industries (14). It was further asserted that the State of Illinois and the federal EPA have failed to take into account the cumulative effects of having so many "layers" of poison in one community. One of the authors states that "the greatest concentration of hazardous waste sites in the U.S. is located in predominately Latino American or African American sections of Chicago's South Side. Hazel Johnson, along with other members of the Altgeld community, are sure that their health problems are a result of the community being surrounded by: a hazardous waste incinerator that gives off PCBs; seven landfills; several chemical plants; a paint factory, and; two steel Mills. Residents of Altgeld Gardens say that they would not eat anything grown there.

Again, it is difficult to refute the fact that Chicago's South Side has its environmental problems. However, I have particular difficulty with this case study in supporting the idea of environmental racism. Mainly because the most recent figures by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found that: in both Tazewell and Peoria counties, cancer deaths in 1990 occured more frequently than in Illinois as a whole, and; accounted for four of the top ten causes of death (Peoria Journal Star, Mar. 1995). Since the release of these figures, seven industries in the Peoria, Tazewell, and Knox counties emitted 122 thousand pounds of chromium into the environment in 1992, including 519 pounds that entered the air. The rest went into the water or the land, or was recycled. In addition, the Illinois Department of Conservation has warned anglers for years not to eat the catfish caught in the Illinois River. Obviously Bullock and his activist friends did not include these communities in his analysis because they are not predominatly African American.

Bullard's collection provides a thorough look at how industrial toxins can easily effect our land and our drinking water. But to suggest that people of color are bearing the brunt of the exposure is highly inaccurate. I would agrue that everyone is at risk. Case in point, a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that DDT, a pesticide once very popular in this country, has been found to be a toxic and more than one-fourth carcinogenic. DDT has been found at levels of a few hundred part per million in many U.S. waters (The Environment, 227). This would include our drinking water supplies. Other studies have frequently shown that Americans have detectable levels of DDT and other pesticides in their fatty tissues. And because DDT is often found in the food we eat, it could be strongly argued that DDT, like most other environmental poisons, does not discriminate between the races. Activists like Bullard, who claim that environmetal racism is predominant, are simply doing this to improve their environmental lobby efforts. Environmental groups have always had problems with trying to out maneuver and out-spend the chemical manufacturers, big oil companies, and big agriculture. Environmental racism is simply rhetoric being used as a confrontational tactic to try to capture the attention of the main stream media. Furthermore, successful environmentalism in America has often been at the regional and local levels in confronting specific environmental problems. A mainstrean environmental movement will only serve a national purpose, if the members are willing to challenge the basic economic orientation of industrialized society.

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Date: Sun, 30 Apr 1995 13:26:31 -0500 
From: "james otterstein" <jrotter@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: RE: UNEQUAL PROTECTION (Otterstein) 

Bullard, et al. UNEQUAL PROTECTION (Sierra Club Books, 1994)

Reviewed by
James R. Otterstein
April 28, 1995

Does the color of a community determine the degree and type of environmental protection it receives? According to the evidence presented in UNEQUAL PROTECTION, a community's racial (minority) composition does impact pollution protection standards. The justification for this unequal treatment is simple: environmental discrimination (i.e."eco-racism", "environmental genocide", or "environmental racism"). Consequently, minority communitites are home to disproportional amounts of incinerators, landfills, toxic dumps, and other pollution-producing industries. Explanations why this phenomena occurs, its consequences, and the means available to halt this movement, are the main topics addressed in UNEQUAL PROTECTION.

The main explanation given for unequal environmental protection (aside from racism) are the combined impacts of both economics and housing patterns. The less-affluent are forced to live in pollution producing areas (i.e. core cities), while the affluent can afford to move to the 'clean' areas (i.e. suburbs). Hence, the (cheap) property left behind by those fleeing the city became attractive to the poor, government housing projects, and other pollution-producing facilities.

Although this phenomena occurred across the nation, it was most prevalent in the South. Southern legislatures operated according "look-the-other way environmental policies",therefore, their region became prime sites for toxic dump and other pollution-related facilities. Even though these facilities produced positive benefits for the region's economy, they simultaneously deteriorated its environment.

For example, because of Louisiana's inadequate environmental policies they became known as a "hazardous waste importer" and home of the infamous "Cancer Alley." Moreover, the case of Indian Creek, Alabama, provides a grim reality of what happens when officials ignore environmental protection: "DDT levels in Indian Creek were 14 times higher than the national average." Perhaps even more disturbing were the results of EPA studies conducted in Texakana, a twin city of Texas and Arkansas: they discovered PCB levels were so high, that entire communities were evacuated and relocated. Additional evidence of environmental neglect were demonstrated in West Dallas, Texas, where soil samples revealed lead deposits of 99,000 parts per million (ppm). Although this number (at face value) may appear meaningless, when placed in the appropriate context, it becomes very alarming: 250 ppm is considered a health risk for humans.

Yet despite the environmental concerns facing America's urban cities (Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles), those facing Native American reservations are just as troubling. Since the availability of land required for hazardous waste sites is limited (i.e. NIMBY), "garbage imperialists" have "targeted" reservations as future location sites. Are these areas targeted just because they possess more available land than other areas?

According to UNEQUAL PROTECTION, this phenomena cannot simply be explained as mere coincidence. Instead, they contend this trend is the result of discrimination. To support this claim, they point to a 1983 GAO study which discovered that "strong relationships existed between hazardous waste sites and a community's race and socio-economic status." If these findings are valid, the outlook for the public health of these areas is very grim.

EPA studies have demonstrated that waste facilities house some of the most dangerous pollutants known to the human race (i.e. PCBs, DDT, lead, etc.). Although the government has abolished the production and sale of several toxis (within the U.S.), their presence can still be found in older buildings, plastics, and abandoned military compounds. Therefore, when considering these factors, it's not surprising that an official from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) claimed that "public health is more threatened by toxins than bacteriological diseases."

Accordingly, UNEQUAL PROTECTION asserts that minority communities not only are subject to higher rates of hazardous waste exposure, but they also receive inadequate regulatory enforcement. For instance, it's suggested that not "all communities share equally the cost of waste disposal." White communities receive faster regulatory responses (i.e. placement on the National Priority List) than minority communities; and those who pollute within white communities receive harsher penalties than polluters in minority communities. When considering the fate of Native Americans, these accusations become even more alarming because many state and federal enviromental laws are not applicable to reservations.

Yet besides the regulatory problems, communities must also confront the issues of pollution control. Unfortunately for these communities, pollution control is often viewed as a form of economic development. This approach is problematic because of the trade-off it creates: "starve now, or be sick later." And more often than not, elected officials chose the latter. After all, pollution control-related industries provide employment and tax revenues. However, experience has demonstrated that most jobs are filled by "outsiders" and revenue gains are reserved for "infrastructure" enhancement. Consequently, communities end up losing either way. Moreover, environmentalists advocating alternative sources of power place Native American culture at risk (e.g. consider the situations facing tribes in Black Mesa, AZ, and in the Artic Region's National Wildlife Refuge, AK).

Nonetheless, UNEQUAL PROTECTION suggests the greatest roadblock prohibiting "environmental justice" is the mainstream environmental movement. This movement, which is headed by "white middle class individuals", is criticized for a number of reasons. First, they are under fire for not "sharing and ideology" nor its resources. Secondly, they are criticized for supporting "nature over society." Thus, the mainstream forces minorities to fight a dual movement: economics as well as environmental.

According to UNEQUAL PROTECTION, the success of this dual movement is limited by the media. The media is criticized for not providing adequate pollution-related coverage to minority communities because it "treats environmental racism is a conditional context." The authors suggest this type of treatment should not be surprising, after all, the media is predominantly a 'white' business controlled by polluting industries (i.e. GE and NBC).

Therefore, without the support of neither the mainstream nor the media, minority communities have turned to massive grass-roots movements. The first of which began in Houstan, Texas, in 1967. Eventually, by 1979 this movement gained enough steam to initiate the first lawsuit on the basis of "environmental discrimination." Yet despite the apparent success of the movement, it was unable to facilitate support beyond community boundaries. However, this trend had changed by 1980.

Following the aftermath of the Warren County (SC) demonstrations, communities of color began to "mobilize a broad-based" coalition committed to environmental justice (i.e. SWOP). Consequently, this coalition finally reached the national level in 1991, with the National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit.

UNEQUAL PROTECTION attributes the movement's success to minority women. These women were able to cross racial lines and unite (despite their ideological differences) with other non-minority women because "environmental issues are issues of the home." More importantly, these women were able to mix "feminism with ecology" (eco-feminism); thereby, affording them greater political leverage. Nonetheless, despite their intial impact, the success of these coalitions are limited by a number of factors.

First, pollution is the by-product of industrializaiton, mechanization, and technology. If government increases its regulatory role too much, it risks losing industries to global competition. Secondly, determining pollution liability is problematic: polluters pass the buck to landfill operators, who in turn, pass it onto taxpayers via legal loopholes and bankruptcy laws. Third, when liability is established, the cost of litigation is beyond the financial means of the average citizen. And lastly, industries counterbalance litigation through the practice of community "buyouts" (i.e. buying and relocating entire communities). Hence, when considering these factors, doesn't it appear as though the environmental justice movement is doomed? Well according to UNEQUAL PROTECTION,the movement has just begun.

To sustain the movement, they suggest a number of actions be taken. First, civil rights liability should be applicable to environmental violators. Secondly, the environmental status of under-developed nations should receive greater attention; thereby, forcing the U.S. to reevaluate its own policies. Third, the EPA should be elevated to cabinet status: this vertical move will increase its regulatory scope and power. Fourth, community "right to know" and "right to inspect" regulations should be established and guaranteed by local officials and business interests. And finally, government should become more active, at every level, in the quest for environmental justice.

In my opinion, the greatest contribution of UNEQUAL PROTECTION is its commentary and evaluation of the environmental justice movement. Although the underlying purpose of these discussions were to demonstrate the uphill battle facing communities of color, they also served another purpose: the legitimization of democratic rule. Their stories proved that democracy does work, especially is the race-card is played. More importantly, UNEQUAL PROTECTION demonstrated that unity, not separation, is the key ingredient to success. Nevertheless, despite these strengths, the book did suffer from a number of flaws.

First, the material could have been presented in a more organized and condensed manner. Seconldy, the principles of the Leadership Summit were far too idealistic and unreasonable. Their 1991 Summit called for the "cessation of the production of all toxins" and "opposed the destructive operations of multinational corporations." Additionally, their calls for the "right to participate, as equal partners, at every level of site-location decisionmaking" are just as unreasonable. Secondly, the authors failed to provide attention to the pollution-problems facing non-urban residents. Third, the material advocated a larger and more intrusive role for the national government, without considering its associated costs: increased taxation and regulation could result in continued industrial downsizing and relocation efforts. Instead of pursing environmental justice via taxation, environmentalists should focus of technological advances. And finally, I am not convinced that the "mainstream movement" is as antagonsistic and cynical toward human life as characterized by UNEQUAL PROTECTION.

--------------------- James R. Otterstein

Department of Political Science

Illinois State University

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