An extremely brief history of environmental racism and injustice

Two years, eleven months, and four days. The time elapsed between Flint, Michigan Mayor Dayne Walling pushing a button changing the water source and the date it took a federal judge to get the state of Michigan to agree to a $97 million settlement to replace the water lines in 18,000 homes by 2020. And this crisis continues to evolve as federal, state, and local employees continue to parse out how to deal with the repercussions, including locating and replacing all lead pipes in Flint. It all started with the decision not to treat the water from the Flint River with an anti-corrosive agent to prevent the iron pipes from being corroded. And it snowballed from there. Sparking international outrage over the fact that the state of Michigan and the Federal Government was doing little to nothing to protect its citizens. According to the US Census Bureau, 41.2% of the residents live below the poverty line, and the city is 56.6% African-American, likely adding to the sluggish way in which officials responded to the problems there.

Sadly, Flint is not a unique case. African-Americans, the poor, and other marginalized groups have always been the unfortunate victims of environmental pollution and environmental injustice. More affluent, white citizens are able to use their money and connections to those in government or in polluting industries to keep the environmental pollutants out of their backyards (NIMBY or NIMBYism). Alternately, these residents have the capital to move out of a place that has been polluted. This is simply not an option for those living below the poverty line.

Environmental racism has prevailed relatively unchecked in the United States, and it’s time that we insist that the government acts in protection of the people, rather than corporations. And that means ALL the people, rather than just those who have some sort of financial or political clout. This week, Al Letson and the fabulous team at Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting dive into a few cases of people fighting for environmental justice around the country. Reporting like this is of the utmost importance as the Environmental Protection Agency is facing massive budget cuts during the new administration. Apart from protecting us from obvious dangers like flaming rivers or killer smog, the EPA is necessary to regulate businesses that have slow acting deadly potential in our country.

Have a listen to this extremely important episode here and don’t take clean water for granted, as Flint Mayor Dayne Walling believes most do; “Water is an absolute vital service that most everyone takes for granted…” -Actual words uttered by the Mayor before the Flint water crisis brought Flint, MI into national headlines.


Feature photo credit.




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