Pollution can be an effect of inequality, and it can also contribute to the continuation of inequality.
Why Pollution Disproportionately Impacts Poor and Minority Communities
Government officials and corporate leaders have long chosen low-income and minority neighborhoods as sites for landfills, toxic waste storage facilities, and other facilities that release pollution. These hazardous sites can harm the environment and negatively impact the health of people who live in surrounding communities.
Studies have found a clear link between pollution and inequality. The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality states, “Income and power inequality tend to dissociate polluters from payers and thus act as a disincentive for ecological responsibility or as an accelerator of ecological irresponsibility.”
Racism, housing discrimination, segregation, economic inequality, and differences in property values can lead to concentrations of minority residents in areas with higher levels of pollution. Low pay, dangerous and unsafe workplaces, and lack of access to health care, clean water, and nutritious foods can contribute to medical problems.
How Pollution Can Affect Human Health
People who live in areas that are impacted by air, soil, and water pollution can experience a wide range of health effects. Residents of communities that have been polluted may not have access to clean water. Contaminated drinking water may contain dangerous chemicals that can cause serious and permanent neurological damage. Lack of sanitation can allow serious illnesses to spread.
Pollution from industrial sites, traffic congestion, and public transportation can contribute to poor air quality. Residents may suffer from respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, at disproportionate rates. The American Lung Association notes that several studies have found higher rates of premature death from particle pollution in predominantly African-American and lower-income communities than in mostly white communities.
How Economic Inequality and Pollution Can Create a Vicious Cycle
People may move into communities that have already suffered the effects of environmental degradation because poverty makes them unable to afford homes in safer and healthier communities. Intergenerational poverty can keep people stuck in polluted communities.
The Stanford study notes that inequality affects the health of disadvantaged individuals and communities, which can make it more difficult for them to adapt to environmental changes. People who are living in poverty may not be able to afford nutritious food and may not have access to quality health care. If their employer does not provide paid sick days, taking time off can make it even harder to get by financially. They may therefore decide not to take a day off to visit a doctor or stay home and rest when necessary.
These effects can contribute to a cycle of poverty and inequality. People who suffer from serious medical problems but do not have the financial means to seek health care and move to safer communities can be trapped in polluted neighborhoods. Their children can grow up in those unsafe conditions and experience similar effects themselves.
Pollution, poverty, and inequality can impact families for generations. Pregnant women who live in polluted neighborhoods may experience complications, or their babies may be born prematurely and suffer from serious health problems.
Those medical issues can impact a child’s ability to learn, which can have lifelong consequences. Children who do not graduate from high school may struggle to find employment or may only be able to obtain low-paying jobs. They and their children may then be trapped in a cycle of poverty and may be forced to continue to live in environmentally degraded communities.
Pollution Can Be a Result of Inequality
If people are desperately trying to get by, they may take actions that have negative impacts on their communities in order to earn money to feed their families. In those cases, immediate economic needs can take precedence over the long-term health of the environment and the health of the people who live in those impoverished communities. The result is the environment suffers and pollution worsens, as they also are subject to the vicious cycle of poverty.
An Environmental Justice Lawyer Can Fight for Your Community
All across the United States, people in positions of power have made decisions without regard for how they could affect the health, economic opportunity, and lives of others. Ben Crump Law, PLLC represents people who have suffered because of those decisions and helps them seek justice.
We understand the links between pollution, economic inequality, discrimination, and intergenerational poverty. Our team can fight to seek justice for your family and other members of your community who have been impacted by pollution and environmental degradation. We may be able to file a lawsuit against those who have polluted your neighborhood. We can seek compensation and seek to correct the damage that has been done. Call the office of Ben Crump Law, PLLC at (800) 959-1444 to speak with a member of our staff and schedule a free consultation to learn more.