During the past decade, climate change has been a major topic of concern and discussion. Much of the time, environmental ethics has been framed in terms of energy divestment, renewable resources and conservation of ecosystems. However, what is often overlooked is how industry disposal of hazardous by-products takes a toll on the health of many communities.
Despite the passing of
Executive Order 12898 20 years ago under the Clinton Administration, poor living conditions persist in cities like Baltimore, which has experienced
growing rates of asthma
[PDF | 251KB] due, in part, to neighboring coal burning plants. These coal burning plants, among the largest in the Mid-Atlantic, are allowed to emit almost four times more
sulfur dioxide (a compound that causes bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms) than is recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) National Ambient Air Quality Standard.
Environmental justice advocates argue that no community should disproportionately face more hazardous waste than another, but we find time and time again that low-income and majority minority communities are
suffering more [PDF
| 145KB] so from environmental build-up of toxins than any other demographic. It is indeed important to talk about creating less waste to preserve the integrity of Earth’s ecosystems for future generations, but it is also important to talk about environmental justice and recognize that current patterns of toxin build-up and disposal endanger the lives of people in present and future generations.
The unfortunate truth is that we typically aren’t aware or concerned about these issues until we see the negative effects in our own backyard. With this logic, it would make sense to expect low-income and majority minority communities to lead the push for environmental justice. However, these communities are also ones that encounter poverty, food deserts and unsafe neighborhoods – meaning they have limited community resources available to protest the building of industrial complexes in their area. In the end, the communities that suffer the most face additional challenges that prevent their voices from being heard.
Environmental pollution is a concern that, if left unaddressed, will continue to negatively impact the quality of life today and in future generations. It is one of many
compounding factors that impact the health of vulnerable communities and widen health disparities. Working together to decrease environmental pollution will not only improve the health of the nation, but help to increase health equity in the U.S.
It is necessary to acknowledge the importance of environmental justice, because conserving our ecosystems is an integral way to preserve health. You can learn more and get involved by:
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