Explain with solid evidence and support whether you believe this situation was one of industrial growth or environmental racism.
HCA415 Community and Public Health
Case Study 1: Environmental Injustice in Homer, Louisiana
Do all citizens have equal rights to protection against threats to environmental health? This question arises both because minorities and poor in developed nations bear greater-than-average environmentalhealth risks and also because those in developing nations bear greater health risks than those in the developed world, in large part because of the policies of developed nations. For example, according to the US General Accounting Office, roughly one-third of all US pesticide exports are products that are banned or not registered for use in the US because they are deemed too dangerous. Instead the US ships them abroad. As already mentioned, the World Health Organization estimates that approximately half a million cases of accidental pesticide poisoning occur annually, with a death-to-poisoning ratio of 1 to 10. This means that each year, about 50,000 people die annually from pesticide poisoning, most in developing nations. One person is poisoned every minute from pesticides in developing nations (Mathews et al. 1986).
Such disproportionate environmental-health impacts also affect those in the developed world. In 1983, African-American sociologist Bob Bullard largely began the whole area of study known as “environmental injustice” when he showed that (1996), from the 1920s through the 1970s, Houston placed almost all its city-owned landfills in African-American neighborhoods. Although they represented only 28 percent of the city’s population, African-American communities received 15 of 17 landfills and 6 of 8 incinerators. Bullard showed not only that minorities across the US faced disproportionate environmental-health threats from incinerators and toxic-waste dumps, but also that these added risks increased other public-health problems–such as crime, poverty, and drugs–in minority communities. Comparing pollution in different California ZIP codes, researchers likewise showed that in the dirtiest US ZIP code, in Los Angeles, industries release 5 times as much pollution as in the next-worst ZIP code. They concluded it is no accident that the dirtiest ZIP code is 59 percent African-American. Thus African-Americans appear to be victims of a special public-health problem, environmental injustice.
To understand alternative perspectives on the issue of environmental injustice, disproportionate environmental risks’ being imposed on poor people and minorities, consider a recent case, a proposal to build a multinational, highly-polluting, uranium-enrichment facility in an African-American community in Homer, Louisiana. One of the poorest towns in the US, Homer has a per capita income of only about $ 5,000 per year. Members of the local community were able to oppose the proposed Claiborne Enrichment Center facility only because of help from outside experts, and their stopping the facility in 1997 became the first major environmental-justice victory in the US.
Questions for discussion: Why would various parties want to locate a uranium-enrichment facility in Homer? Why might a multinational corporation want to build such a facility there? Why might residents welcome or oppose such a plan? Why would local businessmen or politicians welcome or oppose such a plan? Why would teachers, school administrators, and others concerned with public services welcome or oppose the building of such a facility?
Why would “outsiders,” like environmental activists take an interest in Homer and the Claiborne facility? Who are the outsiders and insiders in cases of potential environmental pollution, and which should have the greater “say” in decisions about building a potential polluter? Why?
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What data should inform a decision about whether to build? In addition to scientific data about the facility and its environmental impact, what other data are relevant? How certain or uncertain are these data? In the presence of scientific, economic, social, or other uncertainty, who should bear the burden of proof and why?
Can a community give informed consent to the initiation of a project like building the Claiborne facility? How would such consent be similar to a process of individual informed consent, and how would it differ? Consider what is discussed in Module 4 on community-based practice and research and on the process of sharing power within communities. Which methods discussed in that module might be useful in Homer?
What would need to be disclosed and to whom in order for the community of Homer to make an informed decision about building the Claiborne facility? Are all of the issues to be disclosed factual, or are there ethical assumptions that need to be disclosed as well? Who represents the community in such a decision? Is it the community’s decision to make?
Consider some of the issues raised in Module 2 on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and issues of race. What role does the predominant race of the residents of Homer play in the siting of the Claiborne facility there? Would you argue that the facility will benefit those of a minority group, African-Americans, or would you argue that they are being singled out to bear an environmental burden?
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Case Study 1: Discussion