VIII. ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM
CERD Articles 1.1, 2.1(a-e), 2.2, 5a, b, e(i), 6, 7
RD-VII.1 Radioactive Waste in Communities of Color
Also: ICCPR Articles 1.1, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 23.1
CAT Article 16
Environmental racism was the key subject in the “Race File” of the Applied Research Center for May-June 1997, including headline stores across the country; “Environmental Racism in Houston” (re Chevron), (The Final Call, 63/97); “Fight Over Chemical Plant Sight Involves Race,” (New York Times, 5/12/97); “Minorities Fight Smokestacks in Their Back Yard,” (Christian Science Monitor, 5/8/97); “A Black and Green Issue Moves People,” (U.S. News & World Report, 4/21/97); and “Nuke Waste Will Come No Matter,” (News from Indian Country, Mid-May 1997).
In 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton acknowledged the reality of environmental racism by instructing many Federal agencies to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of it programs, policies and activities on minority and low-income populations in the United States.” [Executive Order 12898, 2/11/94, Sec. 1-101.] The Executive Order was in part prompted by two important reports on environmental racism.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported in 1992 that minority and low-income communities bear a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards. [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1992. Environmental Equity: Reducing Risk for All Communities. Washington D.C.: U.S. EPA Office of Policy Planning and Evaluation.]
A 1987 report issued by the United Church of Christ identified race as the most significant constant variable associated with the location of hazardous waste sites. Communities with commercial hazardous waste facilities were found to have twice the average percentage of minorities than communities without such facilities. Three out of every five African Americans and Latinos live in communities with one or more toxic waste sites. Over 15 million African-Americans, over 8 million Latinos, and about 50 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander and Native Americans are living in communities with one or more abandoned or uncontrolled toxic waste sites. [Commission for Racial Justice, United Church of Christ 1987. “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.” New York: Public Data Access. Xiii-xvi.]
The President has not issued a report on any progress made to correct these discriminatory practices under his Executive Order. A recent study by the New York-based Radiation and Public Health Project found substantial decreases in infant mortality rates after five U.S. nuclear reactors were closed. It also found decreases in childhood cancer rates, and it has been interpreted to confirm that small amounts of nuclear radiation are much more hazardous than studies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors projected. Dr. Ernest Sternglass, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine Department of Radiology in Pennsylvania said “The trouble has been that the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] has not done its own studies at all on the local effect on health when nuclear plants are shut down. That is something that will have to be incorporated into any future decision on what kind of nuclear reactor decommissioning should take place and whether a license should be renewed, because it will vary with each area.” (Between the Lines webpage, 5/8/00).
The CERD Committee, in 1996, noted its concern for safe, healthy and non-discriminatory living environments for minorities. (Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, G.A., Official Records: A/51/18 (1996) para. 71, 119, 233, 234, 396, 408, 476.) The Committee stated, “…the effects of differing levels of economic development of different regions and their impact on different communities are of concern, as they may generate racial discrimination towards disadvantaged groups.” (A/51/18 (1996), para. 408.) The Committee reminded States of the vulnerabilities of minorities in social and political processes. (A/51/18 (1996), para. 119.) and recommended that States incorporate the Convention into their law and policies. (A/51/18 (1996), para. 64, 65, 111, 118, 123, 124, 153, 186, 220, 221, 226, 229, 230, 248, 251, 398, 411, 473.)
This problem of environmental racism is a national problem stretching coast to coast in the United States. For example, the most pressing type of waste sites needed is for low-level radioactive waste (LLRW). Proposed sites are nearly always planned for poor and minority communities. Two sites being considered in South Carolina are located in low-income communities with residents who are predominately African-American. The LLRW landfill in Ward Valley, California is 18 miles from the Colorado River, a water source for many Native American reservations. In Texas, an LLRW site is mandated by the state legislature to be placed in Hudspeth County, near Sierra Blanca, a community 2/3 Mexican-American and poor. [New Liberation News Service. 8/10/93.] In San Francisco, California a recent study show that citizens in Bayview Hunters Point, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, suffer from chronic illnesses – heart failure and emphysema – at a rate four times higher than the state average. Local activists argue that the illnesses are a clear result of environmental racism and that their neighborhood has long been the city dumping ground. Although the Point has only 4% of San Francisco’s residents, it has 1/3 of the city’s hazardous waste sites. [San Francisco Chronicle. 6/9/97.]
On a positive note, the U.S. Government’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied the British Nuclear Fuels consortium an operating license for their proposed uranium processing plant. The tribunal found that racism may have played a part in placing the plant in rural Homer, Louisiana. The communities closest to the proposed site are 97% African-American. Does this only scratch the surface of adequately protecting minorities from environmental racism? [The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, May 1997.] The Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Commission in California proposed a set of principles to infuse environmental justice into county laws and policies in November 1999. (Contra Costa Times, 11/7/99).
1. Is the United States government undertaking “special and concrete measures” as required under CERD Article 2 “to ensure the adequate protection and development of certain racial groups” affected by environmental racism “for the purpose of guaranteeing them the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms?”
2. More specifically, what “special and concrete” measure s are the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Energy, Justice, Labor and Interior undertaking to promote full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in regard to environmental discrimination? What efforts are being made by these Departments to educate their employees and the public on CERD and the subsequent obligation to adopt immediate and effective measures to counter discrimination, such as environmental racism?
3. What have the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and Nuclear Regulatory Commission done to promotes solutions to the problem of environmental racism?
4. What improvements have been made a the federal, state, county, local and community levels to facilitate the reporting of and acting upon the placement of hazardous wasted sites in communities of color? What are universities doing to study these problems?
5. What is the Environmental Protection Agency doing to ensure that environmental justice is infused into all federal, state and local nuclear waster policies? Does the EPA publicize the text of CERD to state and local agencies and commissions responsible for determining nuclear waste facility locations?
Submission of Meiklejohn civil Liberties Institute, Box 673, Berkeley, CA 94701-0673