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Daily News Blog

19
Jun

Juneteenth 2024–Taking Action to Fight Disproportionate Adverse Effects to People of Color

As National Pollinator Week coincides with Juneteenth, it is time to renew our commitment to environmental justice and adopt transformative solutions that address disproportionate harm.

Calls for Holistic Environmental Justice and a Shift Away from Societal Dependence on Petrochemical Pesticides and Fertilizers

(Beyond Pesticides, June 18-19, 2024) Juneteenth (June 19) commemorates the date in 1865 when the enslavement of Black Americans ended in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, over two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the defeat of the Confederacy on April 9, 1865. On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger brought federal troops to Galveston, Texas and finally, and belatedly, implemented the Emancipation Proclamation, which proclaimed on January 1, 1863 freedom from slavery across the nation.

Carl Mack, PhD, a historian and former President of the Seattle-King County NAACP, reminds us that there were still 225,000 enslaved Black Americans in Kentucky and Delaware after June 19, 1865 and the end of the Civil War until December 6, 1865 when Georgia became the 27th state to ratify the 13th amendment. “That is the day in which Georgia ratified the 13th amendment,” Dr. Mack goes on to discuss the remaining three former border states on their progress in adopting the 13th amendment. “As it applies to Delaware and Kentucky, Delaware did not ratify the 13th amendment until 1901. Kentucky ratified the 13th amendment in 1976 and the state that I’m from—Mississippi—didn’t ratify the 13th amendment until February 7, 2013 [the last eligible state to do so, according to Equal Justice Initiative and ABC News].”

These persisting lapses of freedom are emblematic of continued delays in equal protection under environmental statutes in the realm of pesticide and chemical exposure that persist today, as people of color and communities experience disproportionate harm from toxic chemicals.

A report released in January, US pesticide regulation is failing the hardest-hit communities. It’s time to fix it, finds “people of color and low-income communities in the United States and around the world continue to shoulder the societal burden of harmful pollution.” More specifically, the authors state that “ongoing environmental injustice is the disproportionate impact these communities suffer from pesticides, among the most widespread environmental pollutants.” 

As National Pollinator Week coincides with the Juneteenth commemoration, it is time to renew our commitment to environmental justice, while seeking the adoption of transformative solutions that recognize the urgency to address disproportionate harm caused by toxic pesticide production, transportation, use, storage, and disposal. We affirm on Juneteenth and Pollinator Week the urgent need to support healthy ecosystems that sustain lives that are being catastrophically harmed by escalating existential pesticide-induced health crises, biodiversity collapse, and the climate emergency—all disproportionately affecting people of color in the U.S. and worldwide.

From fenceline communities near chemical production plants to the hazardous and inhumane working conditions in agricultural fields, to the elevated risk factors for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) from toxic pesticide exposure, the struggle for protection continues as society must shift away from a reliance on petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers and end their use.

Environmental Justice and Pesticides

In a 2022 interview with Southern Environmental Law Center, Robert Bullard, PhD—the father of environmental justice—defines environmental justice as the embracement of “the principle that all communities, all people, are entitled to equal protection of our environmental laws, housing laws, transportation laws…civil rights laws, human rights laws, and health laws and regulations.” In the January report co-written by Dr. Bullard and Nathan Donley, PhD, environmental health science director at the Center for Biological Diversity, the history of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) failure to live up to its environmental justice commitments are laid out. See here for additional coverage.

In April 2021, EPA Administrator Michael Regan directed all EPA offices to clearly integrate environmental justice considerations into their plans and actions, saying, “Too many communities whose residents are predominantly of color, Indigenous, or low-income continue to suffer from disproportionately high pollution levels and the resulting adverse health and environmental impacts. We must do better. This will be one of my top priorities as Administrator, and I expect it to be one of yours as well.” This effort follows President Biden’s Executive Order, Modernizing Regulatory Review (January 20, 2021), which mandates the adoption of agency policy across government to seriously and with urgency confront disproportionate harm to people of color communities (environmental racism) with the directive to “forward health, racial equity, and environmental stewardship.” Yet, the institutionalized protection of chemical companies that are marketing pesticides no longer needed to grow food and maintain our quality of life is integral to EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, which supports pesticide dependency through its pesticide registration program and continued insistence in putting forward “risk mitigation” measures that are unrealistic in calculating harm and ignoring the devastating effects caused by pesticides—from cancer, neurological effects, reproductive dysfunction, to respiratory disease and major public health threats like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s.

The Bullard/Donley review found that Black Americans are “more than twice as likely [as whites] to live within a mile of a hazardous chemical facility.” In spite of this higher likelihood of proximity to toxic petrochemical pesticides, there is an absence of equity and action by both EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA has virtually abandoned responsibility for occupational protection and redirected it to EPA. Bullard and Donley identify that the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (FQPA), which revised the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, set a new safety standard of ” ‘reasonable certainty that no harm will result’ to people exposed to pesticides through food and all other non-occupational exposure routes,” explicitly excluding occupational exposure. This impacts not only BIPOC communities living near chemical facilities, but also those living near crop fields sprayed with these pesticides.

There is various documentation of disproportionate risks that BIPOC communities face due to generations of structural and institutional barriers. A 2022 study published in BMC Public Health documents evidence of disparities through existing literature and datasets, reaching the following conclusions:

“These disparities are being perpetuated by current laws and regulations through

  1. a pesticide safety double standard,
  2. inadequate worker protections, and
  3. export of dangerous pesticides to developing countries.

Racial, ethnic, and income disparities are also maintained through policies and regulatory practices that

  1. fail to implement environmental justice Executive Orders,
  2. fail to account for unintended pesticide use or provide adequate training and support, fail to effectively monitor and follow-up with vulnerable communities’ post-approval, and fail to implement essential protections for children.”

A 2024 Consumer Reports analysis of pesticide residues corroborates decades of concerns from advocates regarding the failure of the existing risk assessment process to demonstrate heightened health risk levels for communities of color. Federal agencies typically point to acceptable or legal residues as an indication that they are taking responsibility—for example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2022 Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary found that 99% of produce the agency tested “had residues below the established [EPA] tolerances,” despite potential adverse effects associated with inadequate assessment of health outcomes, such as endocrine disruption, vulnerable population groups, exposure to mixtures and synergistic interactions, and more.

The invisible threat of pesticides results in clearly visible consequences, as Beyond Pesticides sheds light on the hidden dangers of pesticide exposure and the disproportionate impact it has on marginalized communities. Communities of color and economically disadvantaged areas bear a heavier burden of pesticide exposure, leading to higher rates of health issues, including respiratory problems, developmental disorders, and certain cancers. From agricultural workers to residents of low-income neighborhoods, the adverse health effects of pesticides are not evenly distributed. The use of pesticides without adequate consideration for their health impacts constitutes a form of environmental injustice.

See Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database and Gateway on Pesticide Hazards and Safe Pest Management to follow the latest scientific literature on specific diseases and adverse health conditions linked to pesticide exposure—resources include fact sheets, uses, health and environmental effects, and alternatives.

Environmental Injustice on Farmland, Wood Treatment Facilities & CAFOs

Be it concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or wood treatment facilities, communities of color face the brunt of toxic petrochemical pesticide and chemical use.  

A recent EPA Inspector General Report in April echoes criticism over the course of the Biden Administration regarding the federal government’s inadequate response to the public’s risk to “residual contamination in the groundwater and soil.” The report emphasizes EPA’s weak response at the American Creosote Works Superfund site in Pensacola, FL, a problem that reflects the unending dangers of sites contaminated with persistent toxic chemicals associated with wood preservatives, which are felt disproportionately by majority Black communities nationwide. The Pensacola site was put on the Superfund priority list in 1983 and in 2017, it was estimated that the clean-up would cost $35.3 million. Just last year, EPA Administrator Michael Regan toured another Superfund Site contaminated with creosote and pledged the clean-up of that site, which affects a community of predominantly people of color. Advocates continue to urge EPA to cancel the registration of highly toxic wood preservatives, including creosote, chromated arsenicals, and copper compounds, and demand action from Congress to ensure the prevention of future site contaminations.

Rural communities and communities of color living in proximity to CAFOs tend to face heightened risk of chronic breathing issues like asthma and respiratory diseases such as chronic, obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), based on a 2022 study published in Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America. Going back to 2020, advocates continue to call for Congress to enact the Farm System Reform Act which would put a moratorium on factory farms by 2040 and hold operators accountable for associated health harms they impose on surrounding communities and their workers.

Take Action Today

What can we do? You can speak up for environmental justice and urge EPA and other federal agencies to adopt meaningful programs that take out of the pipeline of production, use, storage, and disposal hazardous chemicals that are having disproportionate adverse effects in people of color communities.

>> Take action by telling EPA that it needs to make environmental justice connections! 

Become an advocate for targeted support for small-scale organic farmers facing unprecedented uncertainty. See Agricultural Justice to learn more about Beyond Pesticides’ origins and commitment to organic land management principles after witnessing farmworker occupational and living conditions. See Keeping Organic Strong to learn about our priorities for equity and the environmental justice benefits of an organic food system.

  • Consider supporting Sanctuary Farms in Detroit, Michigan—A message from jøn kent, co-founder:
    “Sanctuary Farms is a sustainable organization that focuses on closing the food loop through two main objectives: cultivating organic produce and creating nutritious compost. We cultivate the land through our composting and permaculture (no-till method) gardening practices. With these goals we want to foster a thriving community on the lower eastside of Detroit where people are safe, healthy and connected to their local environment and food by actively being involved in closing the food loop. We are practicing the tenets of food sovereignty and environmental justice by providing examples of the possibilities of what can be accomplished and reimagined in our communities from folks who live within the area. The long term goal is to put this land into a community land trust to provide folks in the Riverbend community with direct equity in the property with the purpose of ceasing potential displacement. If possible please consider supporting our cause here.”

  • Consider supporting The Black Institute—The Black Institute (TBI) isn’t a think-tank, it’s an action-tank. Through a “head, heart, and feet strategy,” TBI injects new ideas for achieving racial equity and environmental justice into the policy realm. An Eco-Friendly Parks for All (EFPA) coalition partner, TBI is a leader in advancing organic land management legislation in NYC that bans toxic pesticides. [Poison Parks]

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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