Study Lowers Toxic Threat to Minorities Area Researchers Contest `Environmental Justice'

Article excerpt

IN FEBRUARY, President Bill Clinton ordered federal agencies to take steps to prevent low-income neighborhoods from suffering further toxic threats.

"All Americans have a right to be protected from pollution, not just those who can afford to live in the cleanest, safest communities," Clinton said while signing an executive order.

In Congress and state legislatures, bills aim to block dumping and waste incineration in neighborhoods inhabited mainly by minorities. Internationally, 66 nations teamed up two weeks ago to forbid the U.S. and industrial nations to export hazardous materials to developing nations. In short, "environmental justice" has become a catch phrase from county boards to the United Nations, with policy-makers working to prevent exploitative dumping and to correct problems from the past.

But the idea that minorities and disadvantaged people suffer disproportionate risk from pollution is coming under attack; the latest salvo has been fired from the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University in St. Louis.

A new study by two research fellows, Christopher Boerner and Thomas Lambert, asserts that studies that gave birth to the environmental justice movement are flawed and that governments are misdirected in seeking remedies. The two conclude in the study - "Environmental Justice?" - that depressed areas should be encouraged to negotiate payments for becoming waste repositories and thereby improve people's lives.

"Many may argue that it is immoral to pay individuals to expose themselves to health risks," the study asserts. "(But) as long as environmental regulations guarantee minimal risk, there should be no moral difficulties with compensating individuals for voluntarily accepting the nuisances associated with waste and polluting facilities."

Copies of their study have been sent to the White House and distributed in Congress, and the authors hope that their arguments become part of the debates.

The study is the second in two weeks to try to debunk the concept of environmental justice and the efforts by governments to tackle problems that are often considered widespread. Last month, researchers at the University of Massachusetts published a study concluding that white working-class people, and not blacks, are more likely to live by waste facilities in the 25 largest metropolitan areas. That study, which analyzed census tracts, was partly funded by the waste-disposal industry.

In a release accompanying the study, the author, Douglas L. Anderton, asserted that "we found some relationships that run counter to the general wisdom of the day, and further research is needed on the question of environmental racism." The words environmental racism further inflame people who feel their rights and health are threatened by waste disposal. …

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