Nowhere will you find more suffering from chemicals and their emissions than in communities living at and near the sources of these chemicals. Chemical plants, water-treatment plants, landfills, recycling centers, railroad tracks, roads for transporting chemicals, storage tanks for chemicals — all frequently built in historic communities of color where people have low incomes and even less political clout.
Mossville, La., the Houston Ship Channel, Wilmington, Del., Louisville, Ky., and Richmond, Calif., are just a few communities that are home to people of color. They are also communities where residents live with with on-going chemical exposure, high rates of respiratory illness, neurological and reproductive health problems, and even cancer. Watching children in these communities wearing respirators, waiting in emergency rooms, and struggling for their very breaths is heartbreaking to us.
To the chemical corporations, this is "the price of doing business."
Then there are the communities like West, Texas, and Elk River, W.Va., where preventable chemical catastrophes happen far more often than publicly reported. Even the far north can't escape chemical trespass. The indigenous people of the Arctic have tested positive for high levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies and struggle with high birth-defect and cancer rates. Researchers believe this is happening because persistent chemicals drift north on wind and in water streams, and these chemicals can accumulate, including in fish and animals that residents rely on for survival.
Who really pays the price for weak and nonexistent chemical regulations? Not the congressional representatives who protect the chemical corporations from regulations. Not the chemical corporations themselves. People in the North are paying a high price for our failed chemical regulations. So are the residents of some of the nation's poorest and most populous neighborhoods.
The House draft CICA adds a cost-benefit analysis to be considered by regulators and chemical makers when evaluating the health and safety risks created by chemicals. To us, "cost benefit" means that the people who are suffering pay the costs while the chemical corporations reap the benefits.
The Environmental Justice and Health Alliance and other groups are calling upon members of Congress to do the right thing by their constituents.
Support the environmental health rights of all people — no matter their race or ethnicity. We all have the right to breathe clean air, to drink clean water, to live a healthy life free from harmful toxic chemicals. Environmental groups will continue seeking justice. In this case, we seek to make Congress aware that we are voters who demand justice for communities disproportionately hurt by toxic chemicals.
Michele Roberts is co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance. For more information about environmental justice and TSCA reform, see www.louisvillecharter.org. In April, the alliance joined with other organizations and released "Who's In Danger," a report on the disproportionate risk of chemical injury that Americans of color face due to the location of industrial facilities.
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