Despite significant improvements in environmental protection over the past several decades, millions of Americans continue to live in unsafe and unhealthy physical environments. Many economically impoverished communities and their inhabitants are exposed to greater health hazards in their homes, their jobs and in their neighbourhoods when compared to their more affluent counterparts (Bullard, 1990; US Environmental Protection Agency, 1992; Bryant and Mohai, 1992). Much of the world does not get to share in the benefits of the United States’ high standard of living. From energy consumption to the production and export of chemicals, pesticides and other toxic products (including tobacco), more and more of the world’s peoples are sharing the health and environmental burden of the United States’ wasteful consumer-driven throwaway society.
Hazardous wastes and ‘dirty’ industries have followed the path of least resistance. Transnational corporations and governments (including the military) have often exploited the economic vulnerability of poor communities, poor states, poor nations and poor regions for environmentally unsound, unhealthy and ‘risky’ and unsustainable operations. For years, economically and politically disenfranchised populations watched helplessly as their communities gradually became the dumping grounds for all types of locally unwanted land uses (LULUs—Bullard, 1990). From urban ghettos, barrios. Native American reservations to rural ‘poverty pockets’ in the United States, unequal protection is creating endangered communities, people and environments. In the southern United States, for example, ‘Jim Crow’ (i.e. apartheid American style) racial discrimination, institutionalized in housing, employment and education, buttressed this process.
A new form of activism emerged out of the struggles against disparate and unequal enforcement of environmental protection laws in black and white communities. This new environmental activism was an extension of the modern anti-racist civil rights movement. Environmental racism may be difficult to prove in a court of law. Nevertheless, it is as real as the racism found in housing, employment, education and voting (Bullard, 1993a). Environmental racism refers to any policy, practice or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages individuals, groups or communities on the basis of race or colour,