#SayItsName: The Crisis of Environmental Racism

By: Chandler Baxter

photo via CTV News.com

photo via CTV News.com

Although some may say it’s never too late for justice, it seems like justice for The Flint Water Crisis in Michigan has come after the damage has been done.  News broke out yesterday evening that Nick Lyon, the head of Michigan's health department was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Flint Water Crisis along with four other officials.  But I can’t help but ask if this is justice or just simply the most minimal form of progress? After all, the residents of Flint, Michigan, still  don't have clean water.The Flint Water Crisis caused 12 deaths. 

photo via   The Economist

photo via The Economist

Racism is so deeply embedded into society, that it appears in forms many wouldn't even think of. The Flint Water Crisis is a perfect example of environmental racism.  In April of 2014, our nation was notified of the devastating news that residents of Flint, Michigan were complaining about contaminated water.  The issue was overlooked until images were circulated of Flint, Michigan’s water being brown, that this issue became the center of attention in our nation.  As of April 2017, Flint, Michigan residents were still recommended to only drink bottled water. Why was the water crisis in Flint so overlooked? Would the reaction be as delayed if the community was mainly composed of white families?

Here are some fun facts I think are very interesting:

-According to the US Census Bureau, Flint, located 70 miles north of Detroit, is a city of 98,310, where 41.2% of residents live below the poverty line and the median household income is $24,862. 

-The median household income for the rest of Michigan is $49,576.

-Did I also forget to mention the city is 56.6% African-American. 

So does it surprise me that toxic resources that was effecting a low-income environment was not a priority based on our government? Not at all. 

Flint, Michigan unfortunately is not the first time we’ve seen Environmental Racism in the United States.  In 1996, the The Tragedy of Chester, Pennsylvania occurred when the the seventh largest garbage-burning incinerator in the nation was placed in a predominantly low-income black community.  Imagine having the vast amount of waste from the East Coast burned right across the street from residential housing.  According to The Atlanta Black Star “The plant often left medical waste lying in the grass outside its boundaries, in public spaces where children were free to play.” 

Another example of this is in Richmond, California where African-Americans are more likely to die of heart diseases and strokes as well as going to the hospital due to asthma due to the fact that Chevron Richmond Refinery built by Standard Oil is within their community.  According to The Atlanta Black Star, the plant is so huge it can process 240,000 barrels of crude oil a day. This takes a huge toll on toxic pollution being spread throughout the community with trucks driving by dumping waste as well as other chemical waste right across the street from playgrounds children play at on the daily-basis.  A Yale study confirmed that for race/ethnicity, whites generally had the lowest exposures. Non-Hispanic blacks had higher exposures than whites for 13 of the 14 components.  Non-Hispanic whites had the lowest estimated exposures for 11 of 14 components. Hispanics had the highest estimated exposures for 10 of the 14 components, and were tied with African-Americans for the highest estimated exposure to vanadium.  African-Americans had the highest average exposure levels for ammonium, sulfate, and zinc, and the lowest estimated exposure to nitrate.  This proves that a person with a low socioeconomic status have a higher chance of exposure to toxic chemicals based off where they live.  So for those who were not aware of what environmental racism was before reading this article, have I made it clear for you?

To tie this back into The Flint Michigan Water Crisis, although we’ve made progress by holding these officials accountable, Flint residents still are not able to sleep at night because there still is not clean water.  Now is not the time to celebrate, it’s the time to keep pushing for environmental justice equality

Chandler BaxterComment