TESTIMONY PREPARED FOR THE
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ADVISORY COUNCIL (NEJAC)
JUNE 1, 1998
Robert D. Bullard, Ph.D.
Environmental Justice Resource Center
Clark Atlanta University
Good afternoon. Mr. Chairman and members of the Council, I want to thank you for allowing me the time to address this body at a crucial time in the history of the Environmental Justice Movement. My name is Robert D. Bullard. I am Ware Professor of Sociology and Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. As a former member of NEJAC, I would like to offer these comments and consider passing them on to Administrator Browner. Despite significant improvements in environmental protection over the past several decades, too many families and children from West Oakland to West Harlem, from the South Bronx to North Richmond continue to live in unsafe and unhealthy physical environments.
Despite the misguided attempts by the detractors of environmental justice and equal protection to turn the clock back or ghettoize environmental justice solely as facility siting, I have seen with my own eyes that many economically impoverished communities and their inhabitants are exposed to unnecessary health hazards in their homes, on the jobs, in their schools, on the playgrounds, and in their neighborhoods. Environmental injustice is real.
Childhood lead poisoning is still the number one environmental health threat to children. Childhood lead poisoning is a preventable disease. Figures reported in the July 1994 on the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) revealed that 1.7 million children (8.9 percent of children aged 1--5) are lead poisoned, defined as blood lead levels equal to or above 10 micrograms/deciliter. The NHANES III data found African American children to be lead poisoned at more than twice the rate of white children at every income level. Over 28.4 percent of all low-income African American children were lead poisoned compared to 9.8 percent of low-income white children. During the time period between 1976 and 1991, decrease in blood lead levels for African American and Mexican American children lagged far behind that of white children.
Asthma is another environmental health problem that disproportionately impacts people of color and the poor. Between 4 to 5 million children under age 18 suffer from asthma. Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children. Asthma is the number one cause of childhood hospitalization in most major urban areas. It is asthma, not gun shot wounds or drive by shootings, that is sending our kids to hospital emergency rooms in record numbers. Hospitalization and mortality due to asthma exhibit wide racial differences. African Americans are two to three times more likely than whites to be hospitalized for or die from asthma. Asthma is 26 percent higher among African American children than among white children. From 1982-1991, the age-adjusted death rate for asthma for persons aged 5-34 was approximately five times higher among African Americans than whites.
Too many freeways, highway arteries, and interchanges cut through, bisect, crisscross, and imperil the health of people of color communities. Persons suffering from asthma are particularly sensitive to the effects of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxides, particulate matter, ozone, and nitrogen oxides. Pollution from automobiles and trucks on the clogged streets and highways contributes to the rising asthma epidemic in our communities. Atlanta, for example, is a nonattainment region because of ground level ozone caused largely by pollution from automobiles. Atlantans spend more time driving in their autos than anyone in the nation. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Atlanta's ozone pollution appears to exacerbate childhood asthma problems. The average number of hospital visits for asthma or reactive airway disease was 37 percent higher on the days after the high ozone pollution.
The current environmental protection apparatus is broken and needs to be fixed. This NEJAC was setup to respond to these realities. Too often the dominant environmental protection apparatus manages, regulates, and distributes risks. Too often this paradigm (1) institutionalizes unequal enforcement, (2) trades human health for profit, (3) places the burden of proof on the "victims" and not the polluting industry, (4) legitimates human exposure to harmful chemicals, pesticides, and hazardous substances, (5) promotes "risky" technologies, (6) exploits the vulnerability of economically and politically disenfranchised communities, (7) subsidizes ecological destruction, (8) creates an industry around risk assessment and risk management, (9) delays cleanup actions in some communities, and (10) fails to develop pollution prevention as the overarching and dominant strategy.
On the other hand, the environmental justice framework embraces the following principles:
The environmental justice framework incorporates the principle of the "right" of all individuals to be protected from environmental degradation.
The environmental justice framework adopts a public health model of prevention (i.e., elimination of the threat before harm occurs) as the preferred strategy.
The environmental justice framework shifts the burden of proof to polluters/dischargers who do harm, who discriminate, or who do not give equal protection to people of color, low- income persons, and other "protected" classes.
The environmental justice framework allows disparate impact and statistical weight or an "effect" test, as opposed to "intent," to infer discrimination.
The environmental justice framework redresses disproportionate impact through "targeted" action and resources.
The following recommendations are made to the NEJAC for you to consider passing on to Administrator Browner:
February 11, 1999 will mark the fifth anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 12898.
We need a Presidential Summit on Environmental Justice to examine the "state of affairs" post-Executive Order 12898.
February 10-12, 1999 also marks the fifth anniversary of the EPA/NIEHS et al. "Health and Research Symposium to Ensure Environmental Justice." We need EPA to take the lead in assessing what follow-up activities and steps, including interagency actions, have been taken to implement the health symposium recommendations.
We now have guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) for implementing and integrating the principles of Executive Order 12898 in the NEPA process. We need EPA to monitor and systematically evaluate compliance with this new guidance.
We need EPA to expand the targeting of resources, monitoring activities, and enforcement on cross-cutting issues surrounding air pollution and the rising asthma epidemic in communities of color. We need more stringent enforcement of environmental laws and closer scrutiny of state highways and road building programs in nonattainment areas.
We need an assessment of environmental training conducted in the regions and states. EPA needs to develop user-friendly environmental justice training modules and guidebooks for use by the regions and states. Modules need to have a common template. Training needs to be substantive and mandatory with built in incentives.
NEJAC needs to provide interpretative language and a vehicle for articulating environmental and economic justice issues into the global warming dialogue.
Government has been slow to ask the questions of who gets help and who does not, who can afford help and who can not, why some contaminated communities get studied while other get cleaned up, why industry poisons some communities and not others, why preventable diseases (like lead poisoning) are allowed to plague our children, why unjust, unfair, and illegal policies and practices go unpunished.
Governments must live up to their mandate of protecting all people and the environment. The call for environmental and economic justice does not stop at the U.S. borders but extends to communities and nations that are threatened by hazardous wastes, toxic products, and environmentally unsound technology. The environmental justice movement has set out clear goals of eliminating unequal enforcement of environmental, housing, transportation, health, and civil rights laws, regulations and policies. The solution to environmental injustice lies in the realm of equal protection of all individuals, groups, and communities.
For more information contact: Dr. Robert D. Bullard, Director, Environmental Justice Resource Center Clark Atlanta University, 223 James P. Brawley Drive, Atlanta, GA 30314 (404) 880-6911 (ph), (404) 880-6909 (fx), Website: www.ejrc.cau.edu