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Daily News Archive
From April 21, 2006                                                                                                        

Congressman Suggest African Americans Make EJ an Issue for Earth Day
(Beyond Pesticides, April 21, 2006) Tomorrow, April 22, 2006, is Earth Day, however according to an editorial written by Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), for many African Americans, Earth Day is just another day in the environmental movement that is perceived as overwhelmingly white and privileged. Rep. Thompson continued, many African Americans feel that the “green” movement is more committed to saving the spotted owl then addressing the environmental degradation of communities of color and the poor.

While this may be the sentiment today, if a closer look at the history of the environmental movement were taken according to Rep. Thompson, we would find contributions to the “green” movement spanning from the late 1800’s through today. Born a slave, George Washington Carver devoted his life to agricultural research. He worked wonders in the field of crop rotation to preserve soil and improve farm production. However, it was the initial organizing efforts of a group of African-American churchwomen in Warren County, North Carolina that radically altered the mainstream environmental images from protection of the pristine natural environment to that of public health.

Hundreds of protestors were arrested in Warren County, North Carolina for protesting the dumping of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) in their community. Although the community lost the battle, for many, this was viewed as the birth of the environmental justice movement. Findings from studies conducted by the US General Accounting Office and The United Church of Christ Commission of Racial Justice show race to be the significant factor in determining where waste facilities are located. President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, in response to the concerted efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights groups highlighting the findings.

Recent images from Hurricane Katrina show whether by neglect or design that the United States government’s policies are inherently racist. This manifests itself daily in the disproportionate health and environmental hazards of people of color communities. Although the effects of pesticides on human health and the environment are well documented in scientific and policy journals, the disproportionate risk incurred, are not fully discussed. Pesticides are linked to a range of effects including cancer, birth defects, respiratory illnesses (including asthma) neurological disorders (including Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease), learning disabilities and endocrine system disruption all of which are suffered in disproportionate numbers in communities of color

In March 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was told by its Inspector General’s office that the Agency had failed to provide adequate protection for minorities and low-income families who, it said are disproportionately affected by pollution. The report, Evaluation Report: EPA Needs to Consistently Implement the Intent of the Executive Order on Environmental Justice concludes that Executive Order 12898 has not been fully implemented nor has EPA “consistently integrated environmental justice into its day-to-day operations.” The report continued by stating, “EPA has not identified minority and low-income, nor identified populations addressed in the Executive Order, and has neither defined nor developed criteria for determining disproportionately impacted.” Moreover, the report discloses that the Bush Administration has previously re-interpreted the order— without authority to do so—to shift emphasis away from the very populations that the order was written for.

This Earth Day, Rep. Thompson said, African Americans must ask as Marvin Gaye did in his song, Mercy, Mercy Me, “How much more abuse from man can she (Earth) stand?” Most importantly, he asked African Americans to commit to Earth Day by better understanding how public policies relate to the environment and their health. He asked that communities of color take charge in defending their community's environmental health and to commit to helping those impacted by the environmental devestation impacts of Hurricane Katrina .

TAKE ACTION: On Earth Day support the protection of schoolchildren from pests and pesticides by having your organization sign the School Pesticide Reform Protocol and join the School Pesticide Reform Coalition. You can also support healthy lawns and playing fields by joining the National Coalition for Pesticide Free Lawns.