If you live in a predominantly minority community, you are more likely to live near hazardous waste, said Mike Ewall a member of the Activists’ Center for Training in Organizing and Networking.
Ewall and Lee Cruz, a founder of New Haven Environmental Justice, discussed the effects of environmental policy on poor and minority communities with about 12 students Wednesday at a presentation sponsored by the Environmental Justice Alliance at Yale.
Ewall said skin color, more than economic background, determines the location of power plants and waste facilities. He said black, Hispanic and Asian communities all harbor a much higher percentage of hazardous waste facilities than their percentage of the population. Ewall said this problem is compounded by the fact that disadvantaged members of society do not have the time or money to fight for environmental justice.
“In this country and globally, environmental justice is a significant problem,” he said.
Cruz explained how socioeconomic inequalities have caused environmental injustice in Connecticut. He said New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport are often attractive locations for companies to dump waste outside of wealthier communities, such as Fairfield and Stamford.
NEJ offers two-hour “toxic tours” of sites in New Haven that concern them. Cruz said the proximity of the highway has caused high levels of noise and air pollution in the Fairhaven community — comprised of low income minorities — while the more affluent Wooster Square neighborhood enjoys the protection of a 30-foot barrier along the same highway.
But Ewall said environmental injustice is a reality all over the country. He said Native Americans’ health has been endangered by uranium mining and the planned storage of nuclear waste on their reservations.
“Throughout the whole process of generating nuclear power, you see the burden of pollution placed on communities of color,” Ewall said. “The only thing they don’t deal with is the [power]. Those go to the wealthy communities.”
Ewall said the federal government should have begun to address environmental injustice long before the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980s. He also criticized the government’s continued use of the phrase “environmental equity.”
“‘Environmental equity’ means ‘poison people equally,'” Ewall said. “‘Environmental justice’ means ‘stop poisoning people.'”
Cruz said the University’s main power plant has decreased its pollution levels in recent years, but must improve more. He said students must take on the fight for the New Haven community’s welfare and address the University.
“When you leave [Yale], you’re going to make choices about where you live, what car you drive, and what products you buy,” Cruz said. “Joining an organization like NEJ can show you how all of your actions make a difference.”
Brett Edkins ’06 said he was stimulated by the discussion and would like to see more students involved in local environmental issues.
“Environmental justice in New Haven is often overlooked. It’s good to hear informed people encourage students to change things in the local area,” Edkins said.
Teresa Tapia ’06, a member of the Environmental Justice Alliance at Yale, which sponsored the presentation, said she thinks it is very easy for people to ignore pressing environmental issues.
“I think it is important to hear from people who are actually working on issues for the community because it is often difficult to see the connections between environmental justice issues, our actions, and our communities.”