By Naveed Mansoori and Sarah Starr
In the Bay Area, two-thirds of the population within one mile of toxic release inventory facilities are people of color. Two and a half miles away, the racial breakdown shifts to two-thirds white, according to a new study titled “Still Toxic After All These Years… Air Quality and Environmental Justice in the Bay Area.
Environmental injustice “is alive and well in the Bay Area,” according to UC Santa Cruz Professor Manuel Pastor, a coauthor of the study.
The study was undertaken in a partnership between the UCSC based Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community (CJTC), and the Bay Area Environmental Health Collaborative (BAEHC), a project of the San Francisco Foundation.
“We try to show even when you control for the level of income and land use, you find environmental disparity,” said Pastor, who heads the CJTC. “It’s not just that. It probably has something to do with the level of political power and voice.”
Pastor pointed to the proximity of lower-income housing to toxic release inventory facilities (TRIs) as another manifestation of housing discrimination against African-Americans.
“Significant housing discrimination still occurs, especially in areas with high poverty rates,” Pastor said. “I don’t think we’re going to solve [that] without a broader way of tackling people’s views on the environment in terms of housing quality. If we were to tackle the environmental disparities, it [could] be helpful in many directions.”
The study was designed to raise awareness of the environmental justice disparity in the Bay Area by analyzing several different databases on toxic air emissions and concentrations from factories, refineries, and traffic.
The data were combined with neighborhood demographics from the 2000 Census, including income levels, ethnicity, and language fluency in the Bay Area. The report calls for policies to help level out inequalities and pay attention to the environmental hazards citizens are placed in while living in polluted areas.
Kathryn Alcantar, a program fellow for the Environment Program at The San Francisco Foundation, feels that research and policy go hand in hand.
“Policy makers respond to scientific research,” said Alcantar, who has extensive experience with environmental justice issues. “Our role as this foundation is to support the diligent work of the communities, and not only to aid them with grants, but also with great researchers.”
The authors of the study also called on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to help communities by allowing them to see data the organization gathers, and to expand its range to include more unregulated sources of pollution.
Many grassroots organizations have sprouted out of these issues, such as Greenaction, a campaign organization that fights for health and environmental justice.
“We focus a lot of our work on low income communities which tend to have been affected by the policies of â€˜enviro-racists,’” a Greenaction spokesperson told CHP. “We help them by organizing the communities to fight for their rights to a cleaner, safer environment.”