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April 02, 2006

Polluting The Poor Environment

It's probably no surprise that poor and non-White communities are subjected to much greater levels of pollution and toxic waste than affluent, White communities. The magnitude of the discrepancy, however, is shocking. Rachel's News reports on a detailed demographic study of pollution in Massachusetts. Excerpt:

[Study authors] Faber and Krieg tallied up all the various toxic exposures for each of the 250 cities and towns (and 12 neighborhoods of Boston) in the entire state of Massachusetts and divided them by the land area of each community. The resulting 'exposure index' is an estimate of how contaminated each community is and takes into account different types of exposure — recycling centers are more hazardous than closed landfills, which are more hazardous than small industry.

Not surprisingly, poor communities and communities of color scored much higher (more toxic) than wealthy and white communities. These communities averaged 35.3 points while the wealthiest communities averaged just 8.5 points. Communities of color averaged 87.7 points compared to just 4.3 points for white communities. So its four times as dangerous to be poor and twenty times as dangerous to live in a community of color.

Faber and Krieg sum it up this way, "...if you live in a white community, then you have a 1.8 percent chance of living in the most environmentally hazardous communities in the state... However, if you live in a community of color, then there is a 70.6 percent chance that you live in one of the most hazardous towns. In short, if you live in a community of color, you are thirty-nine times more likely to live in one of the most environmentally hazardous communities in Massachusetts."

The market differs from democracy in that the market operates on a basis of one-dollar-one-vote, not one-person-one-vote. The US political system has become so heavily dependent on money that it, too, is pretty much a one-dollar-one-vote affair. Which is no accident.

Toxic waste sites and polluting industries are located where they are because of a combination of market factors and political factors. So it's no surprise that communities with the least money get the most screwed. It is shocking, though, to see the extent to which race is a much more potent factor than wealth (class). Racism is built into the very structure of the system, evidently.

Nobody would countenance a policy that caused poor, non-White people to be lined up against a wall and publicly shot as a side-effect of industrial activity. But pollution kills slowly and silently. No matter how unjust the situation, it's a case of out of sight, out of mind.

Posted by Jonathan at April 2, 2006 08:24 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb