Chronological History of the Environmental Justice Movement in the United States

The first concerns about environmental justice were raised in 1971 when the Council on Environmental Quality published its annual report acknowledging that racial discrimination adversely affects urban poor and the quality of their environment [4]. This was one year after the EPA was created, the National Environmental Policy Act was passed by Congress, and the first Earth Day had been celebrated [5].

The next major event in the environmental justice movement was Bullard's 1979 study of an affluent African American community's attempt to block the siting of a sanitary landfill [4]. In 1982, the environmental justice movement truly gained recognition when the residents of predominantly black Warren County, North Carolina protested against the siting of a polychlorinated biphenyl landfill in their county [4-7]. The protest in Warren County set off a chain of protests in the community, similar to the demonstrations of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. These protests led to an investigation by the General Accounting Office of the socioeconomic and racial composition of communities surrounding the four major hazardous landfills in the southern region (U.S. EPA Region 4) of the U.S., which included the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky and Florida [8]. The authors of the GAO study found that in 1983 three of the four landfills were located in predominantly black neighborhoods.

In 1987, the United Church of Christ followed the Warren County protests with a study in which patterns associated with commercial hazardous waste facilities and uncontrolled toxic waste sites were examined [9-12]. The study found that when examining the demographic characteristics of communities with commercial hazardous waste facilities:

Race proved to be the most significant among variables tested in association with the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities. This represented a consistent national pattern;

Communities with the greatest number of commercial hazardous waste facilities had the highest composition of racial and ethnic residents. In communities with two or more facilities or one of the nation's five largest landfills, the average minority percentage of the population was more than three times that of communities without facilities (38 % vs. 12 %); In communities with one commercial hazardous waste facility, the average minority percentage of the population was twice the average minority percentage of the population in communities without such facilities (24 % vs. 12 %) [12].

In addition to the above findings, the report illustrated that three out of the five largest commercial hazardous waste landfills in the U.S. were located in predominantly black or Hispanic communities. These three landfills accounted for 40% of the total estimated commercial landfill capacity in the nation [12]. It was concluded that the distribution of commercial hazardous waste facilities located in minority communities fits the pattern found in the South. In addition, in the study it was found that race was the single best predictor of where commercial hazardous waste facilities were located, even when other socioeconomic characteristics such as average household income were taken into account.

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