Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility

Synopsis

From St. Louis to New Orleans, from Baltimore to Oklahoma City, there are poor and minority neighborhoods so beset by pollution that just living in them can be hazardous to your health. Due to entrenched segregation, zoning ordinances that privilege wealthier communities, or because businesses have found the 'paths of least resistance,' there are many hazardous waste and toxic facilities in these communities, leading residents to experience health and wellness problems on top of the race and class discrimination most already experience. Taking stock of the recent environmental justice scholarship, Toxic Communities examines the connections among residential segregation, zoning, and exposure to environmental hazards. Renowned environmental sociologist Dorceta Taylor focuses on the locations of hazardous facilities in low-income and minority communities and shows how they have been dumped on, contaminated and exposed.

Drawing on an array of historical and contemporary case studies from across the country, Taylor explores controversies over racially-motivated decisions in zoning laws, eminent domain, government regulation (or lack thereof), and urban renewal. She provides a comprehensive overview of the debate over whether or not there is a link between environmental transgressions and discrimination, drawing a clear picture of the state of the environmental justice field today and where it is going. In doing so, she introduces new concepts and theories for understanding environmental racism that will be essential for environmental justice scholars. A fascinating landmark study, Toxic Communities greatly contributes to the study of race, the environment, and space in the contemporary United States.

Excerpt

Two of the most controversial claims of the environmental justice movement (EJM) are the assertions that hazardous facilities are concentrated in minority and low-income communities in the United States and that those communities are exposed to inordinate amounts of environmental hazards. These claims are often used to spur mobilization around environmental issues in such communities. Though I have elsewhere (2009) documented a long history of noxious and hazardous facilities being located within or close to minority and low-income communities and evidence of minority environmental activism that predates the twentieth century, it is only in the past three decades that a sustained movement focused on environmental inequalities has arisen. The rise of contemporary EJM coincides with the emergence of environmental justice (EJ) scholarship, policies, legal challenges, and so on.

During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a marked shift in minority responses to environmental inequalities that laid the groundwork for the EJM. Minority activists became more deliberate in their environmental activism—they linked environment with racial and other kinds of social inequalities and framed the issues in terms of rights to safe and healthy environments. Minorities also agitated for more research on environmental inequalities, treatment of illnesses arising from exposure to environmental hazards, policies to facilitate improvement in conditions, and legal redress of harm suffered (D.E. Taylor, 2010, 2011). In addition, minority scholars and activists began to write and speak about environmental issues in the 1970s by linking them with race and social inequality (see for instance Hare, 1970).

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