“Environmental injustice” refers to a set of actions that harm the environment while simultaneously alienating specific groups and communities. A common example of this phenomenon is a company that pollutes local water sources, which in turn contaminates drinking water and causes health problems within a community.
Environmental injustice is a systemic problem resulting from the alienation and segregation of specific groups within communities. These groups are usually defined along racial, socioeconomic, and similar divisions. Although efforts to overcome environmental injustice continue, it has persisted for decades.
Fighting Environmental Injustices
Legal action has served as one of the biggest influences in affecting the problem of environmental injustice. Many of the organizations that benefit from environmental injustice do so because the principles that they operate on are immoral and illegal.
Because environmental justice advocates have grown increasingly involved in legal processes, they have been able to promote change on the highest level and force organizations to comply with environmental justice principles. Although large strides in improving the situation have been made, there is still much work to be done.
Much of the work addressing environmental injustice focuses on its negative impacts and preventing further damage to communities. However, many people struggle to understand what causes environmental injustice in the first place. Many factors connect with the problem – addressing all of them is the only assured way of coming to a lasting resolution.
What Causes Environmental Injustices?
Dominant groups in the country usually influence environmental injustice. According to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), many factors contribute to the disparity, including racially-based zoning practices, infrastructure development, and housing segregation. By addressing these problems in a widespread and coordinated way, it is possible to undo many of the issues created so communities can focus on improving their lives.
The Prevalence of Environmental Injustice in the U.S.
When people think of environmental injustice, they usually think of large companies destroying the environment, which ultimately hurts residents in nearby communities. This has been a major problem for centuries, starting with the advent of industrialization, which has made it easier for large companies to expand and impact the environment. Waste dumping in local rivers and water sources is still a major problem.
Some companies either do not realize or do not care that dumping chemicals in nearby water sources can contaminate drinking water and poison many parts of the environment. In these cases, community members are rarely, if ever, consulted in the decision-making process. This means that companies can unilaterally make decisions that hurt the environment and the community with little oversight or input from community members.
While community members in government positions with higher socioeconomic statuses might influence the process, other groups have little say. This creates a disparity between the needs of the community and how they are able to influence decisions that affect their lives.
Research Reveals Disparities that Make Up Environmental Injustice in America
On April 28, 2021, The New York Times (NYT) published an article about the results of a study showing that racial and ethnic minorities throughout America suffer disproportionately high levels of ambient fine particulate air pollution (also known as PM 2.5) – the number-one environmental cause of human death. The study appeared in the April 28, 2021 issue of Science Advances (SA).
Researchers gathered data from multiple pollution sources, including vehicles, agricultural sites, the construction industry, restaurants, and residential culprits. The numbers painted a clear picture of systemic environmental injustice in which people of color experience exposure to more pollution relative to their white counterparts. Although the researchers anticipated disparities of this nature, they did not expect to find that the inconsistencies spanned every type of pollution source.
The below table accompanied the NYT article, with the data coming from the Science Advances study.
How the PM 2.5 Data Applies to Various Social Groups
In December 2019, NYT published another article about global pollution. This piece revealed that we enjoy a decline in this type of pollution. Despite this drop, the racial and socioeconomic inequities related to PM 2.5 exposure persist – prompting interest in conducting the Science Advances study.
The researchers studied data produced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their 2014 National Emissions Inventory (NEI) Data Report – which studied more than 5,000 sources of emission. The analysts then cross-referenced this data with United States Census data representing income and race-ethnicity groups. Using these cross-sections of data, the researchers pinpointed PM 2.5 exposure disparities by the identified groups.
The Report Underscores the Political Redlining Practice’s Impact
Another report – this one published by the Environmental Integrity Project – should sound additional alarms about our country’s environmental injustice. This 2021 study monitored benzene emissions in communities surrounding oil refineries. Benzene is a carcinogen well-connected to leukemia and respiratory problems.
For the 12 months of the monitoring project, which concluded on December 31, 2020, 13 researchers found:
- Benzene levels exceeded EPA action levels
- 57 percent of the 530,000 residents who live in nearby communities are people of color
- 43 percent of these community members live below the poverty line
It should be noted, too, that the number of refineries that had this problem had taken an uptick from 2019, at which time 11 refineries showed these excessive levels of benzene emissions.
The following table from the EPI website shows these trends in detail, making the reality of systemic environmental injustice impossible to refute.
When we say “systemic,” we mean that environmental injustice is rooted in how the country functions. Here it helps to familiarize yourself with redlining. This time-honored practice lets the federal government earmark specific communities as real estate investment risks due to their Black resident populations.
“Redlined” neighborhoods suffer inequalities from every angle. For starters, redlining blocked residents from getting federally backed mortgages for decades, which only further fueled disinvestment in the areas, making them particularly vulnerable to environmental issues.
These neighborhoods were cited for industrial development, factories, and infrastructure (like highways), all of which push their pollution and emissions directly onto these disadvantaged communities.
Causes of Environmental Injustice
Environmental injustice can be influenced by a variety of factors, but it is usually caused by special interest groups alienating other groups within the community. Some of the causes of environmental injustice include:
- Racism/racial discrimination
- Alienating low-income community members
- Failing to represent all groups and government
- Unchecked capitalism
There are other causes not covered on this list. According to the Vermont Law School, poor and minority populations have higher rates of cancer, asthma, mortality, and poor health outcomes. These problems may be attributed to high rates of environmental injustice in these communities.
You Can Take Action
When it comes to environmental justice, you have the right to expect fairness, equal access, and enforcement. In the event that this right is violated, then you have the right to seek legal action or to request that the environmental injustice be corrected. Sometimes this comes in the form of legal action or compensation with the help of an environmental injustice lawyer from Ben Crump Law, PLLC.
Unlike personal injury cases, the goal of an environmental injustice case is not always to seek compensation. Sometimes this comes in the form of trying to right a wrong. This can be a change in the living or working environment of the people impacted to restore their rights to environmental justice. The outcome often depends on the situation and your specific goals for restitution.
If compensation is what you are after, it is possible for your lawyer to help you seek it. The amount of compensation will depend on the nature of what happened. For example, if environmental injustice, such as a lack of access to clean drinking water, causes injury, you could potentially receive monetary compensation for your medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering.
Ben Crump Law, PLLC Can Help
No matter the causes of environmental injustice, you are entitled to justice. Call Ben Crump Law, PLLC at (800) 959-1444 for a free case evaluation. There is no upfront cost for help. We are here to help you.