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Subject: [BRC-NEWS] People of Color Battle Toxics Across the U.S.
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http://ens.lycos.com/ens/feb2000/2000L-02-11-08.html

Environment News Service

February 11, 2000

People of Color Battle Toxics in Communities Across the U.S.

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, February 11, 2000 (ENS) -- Ten African
American children are visiting Washington, D.C. this week,
but they did not come to see the usual tourist attractions.
They are here to illustrate the dangerous legacy of
hazardous wastes, contaminated manufacturing sites, and
polluting industries, placed predominantly in poor,
non-White communities.

The children, from Memphis, Tennessee and Pine Bluff,
Arkansas, are here to draw attention to the sixth
anniversary of President Bill Clinton's executive order on
environmental justice.

The order, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice
in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations," was
intended to focus federal attention on the environmental and
human health conditions in minority communities and
low-income communities.

These children, environmental justice activists say, starkly
demonstrate how that order has failed.

"They have major tumors, respiratory diseases, endometriosis
from toxins, nervous disorders," says Dr. Mildred McClain,
executive director of the People of Color and
Disenfranchised Communities Environmental Health Network
(PCDCEHN). "The young man from Arkansas went into a coma."

These illnesses were due to exposure to toxic chemicals in
the children's homes, schools and playgrounds, McClain says.
In the early 1990s, Memphis became infamous as the city with
the most uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in the nation.
Rates of cancer, chronic respiratory illness, as well as
neurological disorders are significantly higher among
non-White Memphis residents than among Whites.

Pine Bluff is the site of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, a Cold War
era chemical weapons production and storage facility that
now holds about 12 percent of the nation's chemical weapons
stockpile. A proposed $200 million incinerator under
construction in Pine Bluff would be the nation's second
chemical weapons incinerator.

Pine Bluff is 53 percent African American, a proportion 341
percent higher than the national average. The town is also
very poor, with 28 percent of its residents living below the
poverty level, according to the 1990 Census. It is a classic
example of the communities that environmental justice
advocates say are burdened by the bulk of the nation's
polluters.

On Thursday, the children visited Howard University
Hospital, one of the nation's first teaching hospitals
serving African American doctors. Their meeting with
physicians and scientists, organized by Dr. Rueben Warren,
associate administrator for Urban Affairs at the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, was as much to
increase knowledge of environmental illnesses as it was to
help the children themselves.

Today, the children were at a press conference hosted by
People of Color and Disenfranchised Communities
Environmental Health Network (PCDCEHN) and the Interim
National Black Environmental and Economic Justice
Coordinating Committee (INBEEJCC). These mouthfuls of
acronyms spell out a sea change in how people of color are
tackling the pollution in their own backyards.

A new force for environmental protection is emerging in the
United States, gaining strength from a broad network of
church groups and citizens groups from the nation's poorest
regions. The nation's environmental justice movement has set
itself the ambitious agenda of ending decades of
environmental racism stemming from the concentration of
toxic industries and hazardous wastes located in communities
of color.

"We are trying to really get national attention to the
critical crisis of health in communities contaminated by
toxic pollution," says Ka Flewellen of the Preamble Center.
The Center, an independent research and public educations
organization based in Washington, DC, is one of dozens of
groups cooperating to form the INBEEJCC.

The fledgling coalition was created to harness the combined
power of local groups that have been battling pollution and
toxic wastes in their communities. In exchange, the
coalition offers a unified, national voice against the
disproportionate placement of polluting industries in
communities of color.

"It's the first time that an effort like this is being
launched under the leadership of people of color," said
McClain.

Damu Smith of Greenpeace is the interim coordinator for the
INBEEJCC, and was instrumental in organizing the coalition's
first meeting last December. "I was looking at what was
happening nationally," Smith says. "When I looked at what
was happening around the country, it became clearer that the
forces behind the movement to undermine environmental
justice are very organized, very powerful, and are part of a
nationally organized strategy to take away protections for
people of color."

To battle the "sinister forces in the nation, out to totally
dismantle the environmental justice framework that we have
worked so hard to achieve," people of color must unite in
opposition of environmental racism, Smith said. At a
Washington, DC press conference in January, Smith, McClain
and other environmental justice advocates issued a
Declaration of a National State of Emergency on
Environmental Racism and Economic Injustice.

"We come this day, in this place, in the seat of this
nation's government to declare that toxic terrorism is being
waged against the descendants of African people," McClain
said.

The 14 page Declaration cites numerous reports supporting
the activists' claim that Black communities and other
communities of color are disproportionately overburdened
with nearby hazardous waste sites, incinerators,
petrochemical plants, lead contamination, dirty air and
contaminated drinking water.

Among the evidence cited:

        o A 1983 Congressionally authorized General
Accounting Office study revealed that three out of four off
site, commercial hazardous waste landfills in the southeast
U.S. are located within predominately African American
communities, even though African Americans make up just one
fifth of the region's population.

        o A 1987 study, "Toxic Waste and Race," by the
United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice - the
first national study to correlate waste facilities and
demographic characteristics - which found that race was the
most significant factor in determining where waste
facilities are located.  Among other findings, the study
revealed that three out of five African Americans and
Hispanic Americans live in communities with uncontrolled
toxic waste sites, and that 15 million African Americans
live in communities with at least one site.

        o A 1992 study by the National Law Journal, "Unequal
Protection," uncovered significant disparities in the way
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces its
laws: " There is a racial divide in the way the U.S.
government cleans up toxic waste sites and punishes
polluters. White communities see faster action, better
results and stiffer penalties that communities where Blacks,
Hispanics and other minorities live. This unequal protection
often occurs whether the community is wealthy or poor."

        o In 1999, the Institute of Medicine released
"Toward Environmental Justice:  Research, Education and
Health Policy Needs." The report concluded that government,
public health officials, and the medical and scientific
communities need to place a higher value on the problems and
concerns of non-White communities.

Evidence from sources like these, indicating that people of
color are still exposed to higher levels of pollution that
Whites, and experience certain diseases in greater number
than more affluent white communities, prompted African
American leaders to question the effectiveness of Clinton's
Environmental Justice order.

"We're calling for some assessment by Clinton
administration, which wants to appeal to voters with
environmental concerns," said Flewellen. "What has been the
record? What has actually been done?"

The INBEEJCC seeks a status report on the Executive Order,
and wants particular attention to be paid to toxic pollution
from federal facilities like the Pine Bluff Arsenal. To that
end, the newly formed environmental justice coalitions met
this week with White House officials, the Congressional
delegations from Georgia and Tennessee. Recent meetings with
EPA and Department of Energy (DOE) officials representatives
have helped the groups lobby for federal action.

In December, the National People of Color and
Disenfranchised Communities Environmental Health Network met
with the EPA and the DOE for the first time to present a
united message. "It was the first time we were able to get
an audience with senior level officials from DOE and EPA,"
said McClain.

"People of color have no significant input on decisions that
are being made regarding national security and
nonproliferation," she continued. "These decisions, we will
be living with the consequences for a very long time."

The DOE and Department of Defense signed a Federal
Facilities Environmental Restoration Dialogue Committee
Final Report in April, 1996, which was to serve as a
guidance for the involvement of communities in federal
facility cleanup. "Neither agency has adhered to it," said
McClain.

"There's somebody living next to these places other than
business people,"  McClain said, noting that her own home in
Savannah, Georgia lies downstream of the DOE's Savannah
River Site, where millions of gallons of highly radioactive
wastes are stored. "There's regular folk, and they have not
had a voice."

Throughout the year 2000, the environmental justice movement
plans to mobilize action from non-White communities, and
from the poorest White communities, which also often lack a
voice in the siting of toxic facilities. Activities
organized around Earth Day 2000 will help bring national
attention to environmental justice issues. The groups also
hope to encourage high voter turnout from people of color,
and high participation in the 2000 Census.

Next year, they plan significant participation in the United
Nation's World Conference against Racism, Racial
Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in South
Africa, to help raise the visibility of environmental racism
worldwide.

"White people have the insulation of resources," said
McClain. "We come home and get beat up." Pollution from
federal facilities is an "issue we have not taken on head on
before. Well, the hell with being poor. They're going to be
trucking this stuff through our communities, we don't know
anything about it. It's time to take a stand."

Copyright (c) 2000 Lycos, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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