All city-owned garbage dumps in Houston were housed in black neighborhoods, a study
in 1983 found. A report released in 1987 revealed that three out of five Black and Hispanic
Americans lived near uncontrolled toxic waste sites. These are all examples of environmental
injustice in the United States.
Environmental justice is a movement that stands to combat environmental injustice — that
is, to enforce policies about the environment that benefit everyone. Environmental justice fights
issues such as pollution and hazardous waste-disposal in low-income and underdeveloped areas.
Environmental injustice can affect a community in different ways, one of which is health.
For example, vulnerable communities tend to have fewer public amenities, such as clean parks and
healthy grocery stores. Toxic waste sites are also more frequently placed in these communities,
affecting the health of the people living there.
The phrase “Environmental Justice” first appeared in the 1950s as a response to policies such as the federal government’s systematic placement of hazardous waste sites inside communities of African Americans. Other policies like the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974) that are supposed to protect people living in these communities are not adequately enforced.
While the movement gained momentum in the late 1980s, some notable events took place in
the late 60s, with events like the Memphis Sanitation Strike. Black sanitation workers
coordinated the strike after unsafe work conditions killed two of their co-workers in 1968.
Supported by figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson, the sanitation
workers were given safer working conditions and a better wage.
Another example took place in Warren County, North Carolina. In September of 1982,
the state started to dump soil composed of toxic PCBs into the Warren County PCB landfill,
which was near a primarily Black community. Residents angry at the potentially harmful effects
of the waste began six weeks of nonviolent protests, and the story gained national attention.
However, the demonstrations proved unsuccessful, and over 500 people were arrested. The
landfill did not close until 2003.
While we obviously can’t achieve a protest of that magnitude, we are trying to work to
improve the school’s environment. That’s why we hosted a trash pick-up competition! We
provided trash cans and trash bags in front of every dorm. We will be donating $10 to an
environmental justice charity for each pound of trash collected.
“Environmental Justice Timeline.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency,
“Environmental Justice History.” Energy.gov,
“The Warren County PCB Landfill – North Carolina.” BFA,
Neimark, Peninah, and Peter Rhoades Mott, editors. The Environmental Debate: A Documentary
History, with Timeline, Glossary, and Appendices. 2nd ed., Grey House Publishing, 2011