On November 20, 2010 the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University in partnership with the Gulf Coast Fund, organized a community training and strategic planning meeting with environmental advocates and community leaders from Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana living within close proximity to landfills where oily wastes from the BP Oil disaster is being disposed. Advocates discussed the long history of wastes and race in communities of color and engaged community leaders to come up with strategies to resolve these concerns.
The nine approved Gulf Coast solid waste landfills include:
AlabamaChastang Landfill, Mount Vernon, ALMagnolia Landfill, Summerdale, ALFloridaSpringhill Regional Landfill, Campbellton, FLLouisianaColonial Landfill, Ascension Parish, LAJefferson Parish Sanitary Landfill, Avondale, LA,Jefferson Davis Parish Landfill, Welsh, LARiver Birch Landfill, Avondale, LATide Water Landfill, Venice, LA 2,204 tonsMississippiPecan Grove Landfill, Harrison, MS (no longer receiving waste)
Dr. Beverly Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice gave a presentation on the history of toxic wastes and race. The environmental justice movement was born in Warren County, NC in 1983 where over 500 demonstrators were arrested while protesting the siting of a hazardous PCB landfill. Findings from a 2001 landfill assessment found that hazardous waste from the Warren County landfill was leaching as predicted. In 2003, detoxification work began on the PCB landfill to remediate the contaminated soil found in the landfill.
The Toxic Release Inventory in Louisiana reveals that 80% of African Americans living in the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor live within three miles of a polluting facility. Zoning tends to act as the gatekeeper for dangerous and noxious facilities. History has taught us that if we are not vigilant, our already assaulted communities will become the beacon for dangerous and risky technologies. The Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty Report reveals that in 2007 people of color in were more concentrated in areas with commercial hazardous sites than in 1987.
The differential effects of catastrophic weather disasters consistently reveals that low-income and minority communities suffer from both higher socio-economic stress and greater environmental exposure to toxins, hazardous wastes, and other environmental burdens.
Dr. Robert Bullard, executive director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University discussed the results of the Environmental Justice Analysis he did on the nine landfills selected. Below are the results of the EJ Analysis:
Alabama – Chastang Landfill, Mount Vernon, AL 6008 tons (56.2%), Magnolia Landfill, Summerdale, AL 5,966(11.5%)
Florida – Springhill Regional Landfill, Campbellton, FL 14,228 (76%).
Louisiana – Colonial Landfill, Ascension Parish, LA 7,729 (34.7%) Jefferson Parish Sanitary Landfill, Avondale, LA, 225 tons (51.7%) Jefferson Davis Parish Landfill, Welsh, LA 182 tons (19.2%) River Birch Landfill, Avondale, LA 1,406 (53.2%) Tide Water Landfill, Venice, LA 2,204 tons (93.6%).
Mississippi- Pecan Grove Landfill, Harrison, MS 1,509 (12.5%.) (no longer receiving wastes from BP)
Results showed that 61 percent of the waste was being dumped in communities of color. In 1990 the book, Dumping in Dixie documents that African Americans and low-income communities receive their fair share of waste and health threats from industrial facilities. In 1999 a study by the Institute of Medicine confirmed that African American groups experience certain disease in greater numbers than more affluent white people. African Americans are 79% more likely to live in neighborhoods that pose a greater risk of pollution. Racial disparities for people of color living near waste and disposal facilities exist in 9 of 10 regions.
Healthy People and Healthy Places are highly correlated with the poorest of the poor within the United States having the worst health and the most degraded environment. One of the most important indicators of individual health is one’s zip code.
The Environmental Justice Executive Order 12998 mandates that before government or a developer makes a decision concerning a building or using a facility, they must do an environmental analysis on how it impacts minority communities. Government must know who lives where. When there is fair treatment, no community is burdened by pollution.
Another environmental concern is the diesel exhaust coming from the trucks disposing the wastes in these communities. Dr. Nicky Sheats, executive director of the Center for the Urban Environment discussed the effect of diesel exhaust on human health. He warned that “community advocates should monitor what kind of pollution is coming from the waste in their community. Fine particulate matter (PM) from diesel engines is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths in the United States annually.”
The training gave community leaders the resources and tools needed to help lift up their voices and advocate for their community. Meeting participants came up with several strategies to resolve their concerns regarding the BP wastes including organizing local churches, writing sign-on letters to local, state, and federal leaders, and finding resources to monitor air pollution coming into their community.