Pollution, Cancer Rates, and Civil Rights

In this well researched article published by the Guardian and Mother Jones, Oliver Milman highlights several of the clear lines that link minority and low income communities with higher rates of exposure to environmental threats.

The concept of environmental injustice is far from new; it comes as no surprise that when corporations need a place to dispose of a toxic substance, the backyards of the powerless provide a tempting option. As Milman points out with repeated and proven evidence, marginalized communities may suffer disproportionately under the actions of imbalanced social systems-- including biased or inaccessible education and criminal justice frameworks-- but geography and natural resource distribution add another significant dimension to this unfortunate pattern. Oil pipelines and industrial toxins tend to be channeled through the lives, yards, and water reservoirs of those who lack the resources to protect themselves, and undermining the strength of agencies that level the playing field, like the EPA, will likely push the powerless further and further into harm’s way. The health problems that result tend to accelerate the economic circumstances that created the imbalance in the first place, perpetuating a spiral that won’t end unless it’s actively disrupted.

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But there are some advantages available to us that can support our efforts to break this pattern, and a few of them are highlighted here.

For example, data collection. Proving an imbalance within complex, nuanced social systems (education, criminal justice) can be difficult due to blurred correlations and nuanced theoretical approaches to our understanding of social structures and communities. But these nuances don’t apply to direct, irrefutable links between higher cancer rates and proximity to a hazardous chemical storage facility. When a clear link exists between a minority population and an environmental health risk, this can accelerate the debate and help us move forward with purpose to correct issues related to environmental injustice.

But only if 1) we have access to this data when we need it, and 2) we can leverage this information to make a clear case for action.

As always, we’re interested in forming relationships with researchers and institutions who can help us complete the pieces of the puzzle and tighten our position against entities that benefit from environmental inequity. If you’d like to help, please contact our team!