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April 12, 2021

Sacrifice zones

Opinion

April 12, 2021

On April 4, the Hip Hop Caucus, a nonprofit advocacy group that tackles issues relating to health care, education and environmental and social justice, launched a public petition urging Congress to pass legislation that protects communities of color from the health risks posed by environmental degradation. The petition is co-sponsored by several other advocacy groups, including Progress America, Friends of the Earth Action, Coalition on Human Needs, Evergreen Action and the Progressive Reform Network. “Corporate polluters demand human sacrifices,” wrote Mike Phelan, a spokesman for Progress America, in a recent email about the petition. “They each have a choice between profits and pollution – and every time, they choose profits.”

In a 2004 report, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote that “the solution to unequal protection lies in the realm of environmental justice for all Americans. No community, rich or poor, black or white, should be allowed to become a ‘sacrifice zone.’” In her 2014 book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein writes that “running an economy on energy sources that release poisons as an unavoidable part of their extraction and refining has always required sacrifice zones – whole subsets of humanity categorized as less than fully human, which made their poisoning in the name of progress somehow acceptable.”

Four years later, scientists at the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment released a study in the American Journal of Public Health called “Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status.” The report confirmed that environmental racism presents a clear and present danger to people of color across the United States, as they are much more likely to live near polluters. The study found that poor communities (those living below the poverty line) have a 35 percent higher burden from particulate matter emissions than the overall US population. The health burden carried by non-whites was 28 percent higher than the overall population, while African Americans had a 54 percent higher burden. The researchers cited economic inequality and historic racism as major factors in the siting of facilities emitting particulate pollution.

Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter that are inhaled can become embedded deep in the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Such particle pollution exposure can cause a number of health impacts, including nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma and decreased lung function.

For people with heart or lung disease, inhaling these particles can even lead to premature death.

Excerpted: ‘‘Sacrifice Zones’: How People of Color Are Targets of Environmental Racism’

Counterpunch.org