Pollution Law Watch

Environmental Discrimination in Richmond, California

Posted in Arsenic, Chromium, Government, Pollution

Last week, in a blog called “Environmental Justice is a Civil Right”, I wrote about how polluting industries and the governments that enable them often choose to locate health-damaging factories among communities of poor minority citizens who don’t have the resources to resist.

A sad and compelling case in point is made by Javier Sierra in Huffington Post Green, in his article, “Richmond California: Exhibit A of Polluters’ Cruelty”. Javier explains how Richmond—a mostly low income Latino and African-American community—has been targeted by industry for a particularly cruel campaign of pollution.  Coal trains, which are parked in the town and then transported through the town, leave a blanket of highly toxic coal dust in their wake, including on school playgrounds. The chemicals in this dust—arsenic, lead, chromium, etc.—can cause cancer.  Mile-long trains carrying crude oil in rail cars with dangerously thin shells which are easily punctured, rumble through the town.  As Javier notes, and as we have also written about in our “CITIZENS AT RISK: Transporting Dangerous Chemicals By Train is A Massive Tragedy Waiting to Happen” blog, these trains are called “rolling bombs” for their history of causing death, injury and property destruction in the communities they pass through. And, as if all of that were not enough, the families of Richmond are surrounded by petro-chemical refineries, notorious for provoking high rates of cancer and other auto-immune diseases among those who live and work nearby.

Why is Richmond being treated like this?  The answer is as simple as it is disgraceful: these poor families don’t fight back. Because they can’t.

Unlike industry, they don’t have the resources to hire lawyers, consultants, and lobbyists to help them influence the location of polluting factories. And their government has abandoned them. The worst kept secret is how dangerous places like Richmond can be, especially to young children. And yet the government charged with protecting them will not do its job.

Until we recognize a clean environment as a civil right, and every citizen’s claim on that right to be equal, the families of Richmond, California—and families in many communities just like it throughout the country—will continue to suffer this discrimination, and the destruction, danger and disease that goes with it.