Fact Sheet

In the real world, all communities are not created equal. Government and industry are major perpetrators of environmental and economic injustice. It is unlikely that sustainable development can be achieved in the United States and the world without addressing racial, social, economic, and environmental justice.

Toxic Production. Approximately 80,000 different chemicals are now in commercial use with nearly six trillion pounds produced annually in the United States. More than 80% of these chemicals have never been screened to learn whether they cause cancer, much less tested to see if they harm the nervous system, the immune system, the endocrine system or the reproductive system. Of the top 20 chemicals reported to the U.S. Federal EPA under the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) as those released in the largest quantities in 1997, nearly 75 percent are known or suspected neurotoxins.

Toxic Communities. Poverty and pollution are intricately linked. Three out of five African Americans and Latino Americans live in communities with abandoned toxic waste sites. Over 870,000 of the 1.9 million (46%) housing units for the poor, mostly people of color, are within a mile of factories that reported toxic emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Toxic Housing. Lead poisoning is the number one environmental health threat to American children, especially poor inner-city African American children. Lead poisoning affects an estimated 890,000 American preschoolers or 4.4 percent of the under 5 age group. African children are five times more likely to be poisoned than white children. Over 22 percent of African American children living in pre-1946 housing are lead poisoned, compared with 5.6 percent of white children and 13 percent of Mexican American living in older homes. The World Health Organization estimates the effect of lead poisoning to be about 1 to 3 points of IQ lost for each 10 ug/dl lead level. An estimated 16 percent of juvenile delinquent behavior in the U.S. is attributable to high lead exposure.

Toxic Schools. More than 600,000 students in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and California were attending nearly 1,200 public schools (mostly students of color) that are located within a half mile of federal Superfund or state-identified contaminated sites. No state except California has a law requiring school officials to investigate potentially contaminated property and no federal or state agency keeps records of public or private schools that operate on or near toxic waste or industrial sites.

Toxic Foods. The United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world. Still, food borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325 000 hospitalizations, and 5 000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Known food borne pathogens account for 14 million of the illnesses, 60,000 hospitalizations and 1,800 deaths. Unknown agents account for approximately 81% of food borne illnesses and hospitalizations and 64% of deaths. Half of all black neighborhoods in the U.S. are without full-service grocery stores and supermarkets.

Discrimination "Tax." Racial discrimination prevents millions of African American from enjoying the advantages of home ownership. African Americans seeking to rent housing can expect to meet discrimination by landlords 53 percent of the time and 59 percent of the time if they are seeking to buy a house. African American households, on average, must pay a discrimination "tax" of roughly $3,700. The total cost of current discrimination amounts to about $3 billion per year for all Black households, owners and renters. The current generation of blacks has lost $82 billion due to discrimination. Of this total, $58 billion was lost as a result of lack of housing appreciation, $10.5 billion from paying higher mortgage rates, and $13.5 billion from the denial of mortgages.

Insurance Redlining. Racial redlining by insurance companies kills communities economically. In a recent study, black, Latino, and white testers presented themselves as homeowners to the offices of three major insurance companies in nine cities. Overall, the black and Latino testers were discriminated against 53 percent of the time in such areas as coverage and premium rates.

Transportation Equity. Transportation investments have contributed to and exacerbated racial segregation and inner-city disinvestments. Public transit has received roughly $50 billion since the creation of the Urban Mass Transit Administration over thirty years ago. Roadway projects have received over $205 Billion since 1956. On the other hand, automobiles are a major contributor to urban air pollution. One third of all African Americans do not own automobiles. African American and other people of color riders (Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans) account for nearly 60 percent of all transit passengers in the U.S. African American and other people of color riders (Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans) account for nearly 60 percent of all transit passengers in the U.S. Americans spend more on driving than on health care, education or food. The average American household spends 18% of its annual income, or more than $6,200, on transportation. Many low-income African American families often spend more than one-third of their income on transportation.

Geography of Air Pollution. Over 57 percent of whites, 65 percent of African Americans, and 80 percent of Hispanics live in 437 counties with substandard air quality. In the heavily populated Los Angeles air basin, over 71 percent of African Americans and 50 percent of Latinos live in areas with the most polluted air, compared to 34 percent of whites.

Dirty Power Plants. Power plants are the largest sources of air pollution in the U.S. Over 78% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a power plant--the distance within which the maximum effects of the smokestack plume are expected to occur--compared with 56% of white Americans.

Asthma Epidemic. Air pollution costs Americans $10 to $200 billion a year. Asthma and air pollution are linked. Asthma alone costs Americans over $14.5 billion in 2000. Asthma accounts for more than 10 million lost school days, 1.2 million emergency room visits, 15 million outpatient visits, and over 500,000 hospitalizations each year. African Americans and Latino are almost three times more likely than whites to die from asthma. The hospitalization rate for African Americans and Latinos is 3 to 4 times the rate for whites.

Uninsured Households. Over 42.6 million Americans, including 10 million children, are without health insurance today. The uninsured rate for African Americans, Latino Americans, and Native Americans is more than one and a half times the rate for white Americans. A 2001 Commonwealth Fund survey discovered that Hispanics and African Americans, were most likely to be uninsured, as 46% and 33% of working-age Hispanics and African Americans, respectively, lacked insurance for all or part of the 12 months prior to the survey. In comparison, one-fifth of both whites and Asian Americans ages 18-64 lack health coverage for all or part of the previous 12 months.

Climate Justice. African Americans are concentrated in cities that failed EPA's ambient air quality standards. Global warming is expected to double the number of cities that currently exceed air quality standards. A study of the fifteen largest American cities found that climate change would increase heat-related deaths by at least 90 percent. African Americans are twice as likely to die in a heat wave.

National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN)
1400 16th Street, NW , Washington, DC 20036
(202) 265-5422 (ph)
(202) 265-4912 (fx)
E-Mail: NBEJN029@aol.com