Who Gets Polluted?

Who Gets Polluted?

During the last decade, a grass-roots, minority-led movement against environmental racism (more recently described as the movement for environmental justice) has been spreading across urban America. Led largely by local women of color, the movement for environmental justice has received scant national attention. Yet these activists, by weaving together ideas and tactics of the civil rights and environmental movements, are creating one of the most potentially radical movements in recent American history.

What is environmental injustice? Let me begin with a true story, an incident that escaped most of the country’s attention.

On July 26, 1993, while the rest of the nation watched the rising waters of the Mississippi drown people’s homes and dreams, a ruptured railroad car at General Chemical’s plant in North Richmond, California, spewed a fifteen-mile long toxic plume of sulfuric acid through surrounding residential communities. People wheezed and coughed, their eyes and lungs scorched by the toxic cloud. Three hours passed before the explosion could be capped. Over the next few days, more than twenty thousand residents sought medical treatment from nearby hospitals.