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The location of hazardous waste facilities in poor communities Essay

Definitions and concepts

Since the end of Second World War, huge volumes of hazardous chemical wastes have been generated by developed nations across the globe. Today, it is believed that more than 4 million tons of industrial wastes are produced each year by the US and other developed nations. This is a major global issue as it has the effect of causing environmental injustice or inequality.

Environmental justice is a branch of environmental science which is aimed at ensuring that all segments within a population are treated in an equitable manner with regards to the environmental issues. In the US, the environmental movement has over the years focused on conservation of resources and preservation of species while global efforts have been directed towards the concept of environmental justice.

Environmental justice usually involves coming up with appropriate measures that rectifies the disproportionate burdens that the poor communities have suffered in the past following the placement of hazardous wastes in places where they live. This movement ensures that the minority groups and the poor receive fair treatment as far as environmental rights are concerned.

According to the United States Environmental Agency, air treatment means that no group of people should be subjected to harsh environmental conditions as a result of its racial, ethnic and socio-economic basis (Santoler, Theodore, & Reynolds, 2000, P.305). Environmental injustice refers to the acts whereby many poor communities are exposed to all manner of environmental hazards ranging from wastes and dangerous emissions more than the rich communities.

Today, environmental discrimination has remained a fact of life to the poor communities across the globe. Environmental discrimination has been caused by discriminatory practices on housing opportunities .In United States, the black communities have been a victim of environmental discrimination.

The poor communities in the United States usually have their housing located near smelter operations, paper mills, garbage dumps and chemical plants. Over the past two decades, environmental injustice has intensified as industries have opted to dump their wastes in politically and economically poor communities (Santoler, Theodore, & Reynolds, 2000, P.305-306).

Statement of the Problem

This study explores the environmental justice concerns i.e. the location of hazardous waste facilities in poor communities. This study is important because it recognizes environmental inequity as a major challenge on poor communities.

Though several studies about environmental justice concerns in United States and other developed countries exist, little effort has gone into studying the government decisions to put up waste facilities in poor communities in the United States. This neglect exists despite the fact that wastes whether liquid or solid in poor community has health and environmental effects. In today’s world, the government should carry out its rightful role in ensuring that there is effective waste management process in order to protect its people and the environment.

A study which was done by OECD-Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development: OECD (2002) suggests that, the government has the role of providing the local communities with education regarding waste management. The government should carry out its rightful role of ensuring that waste is effectively disposed.

According to OECD-Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the government has the role of making arrangement for wastes to be collected on a regular basis from people’s homes. Also, the government is vested with the responsibility of storing, recycling and disposing waste properly.

Purpose and objective of the study

The purpose of this study is to examine the role of government and people with regards to managing wastes. The specific objectives arising from the overall purpose is; to determine the effects of waste materials on environment and people’s health and to establish the government’s role in managing both solid and liquid wastes in poor communities.

Literature Review

The Environmental Justice Movement came into existence in early 1980s following the increased awareness of the inequalities with regard to waste sites, distribution and the general environmental degradation that was common among the minority and poor communities across the United States. The protests by black Americans against the erection of a toxic dump site in North Carolina in 1982 marked the beginning of Environmental Justice Movement throughout the United States.

The Environmental Justice Movement was enhanced by such aspects as the presence of a vibrant civil society, the founding of antitoxic movements, traditional environmentalists, scholars and theorists of environmental studies, presence of labor movements among others. Together, these aspects played an important role in creating a unified front that struggled against environmental injustices.

This struggle saw residents in poor communities in the United States such as Ketleman City unite against past social injustice that had been committed unto them by using such techniques as coalition building, litigation and direct participatory democracy. These techniques were crucial because they helped to redefine both the meaning of environment and the ecological awareness in poor communities (Faber, 1998, P.109).

Causes of the location of hazardous waste facilities in poor communities

The main cause of hazardous waste facilities in poor communities in United States is due to lack of adequate education by the poor people. Poor communities do not receive good education as compared to the rich and middle income people through out the United States. This is because poor people lack time and the resources required to acquire good education.

For instance, many residents of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley have been exposed to hazardous wastes over the past decades. The region releases toxics which causes adverse health consequences on people. In Louisiana, more than 30 percent of the total population is poor.

A research done by the Environmental Protection Agency showed that, more than 30 million tons of hazardous wastes are released annually in this region. The releases are mainly done in two residential areas that are mainly inhibited by Black-Americans.

According to a research done by Rankin, Karen, and London (2005) poor people are usually found in areas with hazardous wastes and toxic areas as compared to the rich as a result of lack of proper education.

The high unemployment rate among the poor in the United States implies that they are more likely to be pre-occupied in low-level employments such as factory work, construction and mining which exposes them to toxic and hazardous wastes.

Historically, poor communities in the United States mainly the blacks find jobs in agricultural and industrial sectors which are more hazardous .The blacks in turn settled in areas where pollution occurred most likely as a result of such reasons as social, cultural and economic (Hanks, 2010, P.474).

In the United States, many poor communities are victims of hazardous wastes due to oppression. The black people are usually subjected to insidious form of racism in the United States.

This insidious form of racism usually manifests itself in that, polluting industries are disproportionately situated and also, hazardous waste sites are located where the poor communities live. This thus routinely exposes them to health and safety hazards. Documentations have detailed the disproportionate effects of toxics and hazardous wastes on poor communities in the United States.

For istance, the report by a United States General Accounting Office showed that majority of the United States’ landfills is situated in locations where poor people are found. Such land fills includes the Chem Waste Management facility, Alabama’s waste dump among others. A report by the Commission for Racial Justice of US in 1987 reported that uncontrolled toxic and hazardous waste sites are found in areas that are mostly inhibited by the poor communities.

The impact of hazardous wastes and toxics on poor communities have been brought about by the long history of oppression ranging from slavery and colonization to the newest form of institutionalized racism (Levenstein & Wooding, 1997, P.322).

The other reason that causes the location of hazardous waste facilities in poor communities is economic reasons. Most industries in the United States opt to locate their businesses in areas that are inhibited by poor communities .This is due to the fact that, poor communities provide these industries with cheap labor.

These industries usually threaten poor communities with job cutbacks as well as plant showdowns when they challenge them for their practices. The desire by most industries to maximize profits makes hazardous waste facilities to be located in areas where poor communities live. Usually, poor communities are found in areas where the land as well as the sites is relatively cheaper. Less expensive sites are often targeted for construction of waste sites.

Likewise, poor communities are found in areas with existing landfills and therefore, the property values are already low and thus, their residential areas are more likely to be targets for new landfills. In United States, hazardous waste facilities are mainly located in those communities that have high percentages of elderly, poor and black people. Unwarranted amounts of hazardous wastes are usually found in towns and cities that have a high number of the minority community.

Large hazardous waste landfills are located in the Southern Black Belt region which is mainly inhibited by the poor communities. United States biggest hazardous waste facility is situated in Emelle area of Alabama where the poor are the majority with 80 percent of the total population. Poor infrastructural facilities ranging from lack of water treatment facilities to access to poor road networks is another cause of the location of hazardous waste facilities in poor communities throughout the US.

Poor communities are exposed to environmental inequity because they don’t have choices concerning where to live as opposed to the rich and middle income people. The poor communities cannot afford to pay extra money in order to live in areas that have good infrastructural facilities and thus they are forced to live in areas that are environmentally degraded.

Also, poor communities lack the capacity to struggle against the imposition of hazardous waste facilities near their residential places. The poor communities are generally found in such places as garbage damps and areas that are prone to toxics. In Texas, poor communities are located in areas that have poor infrastructural facilities. Most of these people usually suffer from poisoning as a result of environmental racism (Murdock, 1999, P.125).

Lack of political will is another factor that causes hazardous waste facilities to be located in places where poor communities live. Following the introduction of discriminatory laws in the United States, the minority communities have found themselves with no political power i.e. power has been bestowed on the major communities over the years.

The political clout has been the reason why minority communities have been environmentally discriminated. Poor communities especially black people in the United States lacks the political will needed to resist inequitable distribution of waste sites.

Usually, black people fail to overcome environmental injustices because they do not garner adequate support mainly from the mainstream environmental organizations. There are only a few representatives from the poor communities who serve in the mainstream environmental organizations board.

The managerial and supervisory positions at the mainstream environmental organizations are mainly held by non-minority communities. As a result of being subjected to poverty, the poor communities lack the capacity to fight back the decision processes. Sitting a hazardous waste facility has been a major political issue throughout the United States.

This has seen poor communities especially the black people become the dumping grounds as far as toxic materials and household garbage are concerned. Black neighborhood in the United States has been over burdened with disproportionately share of hazardous waste disposal facilities. This unequal landfill sitting pattern is best illustrated in Houston City. Houston is United States’ fourth largest city and has a population of 2 million people.

Houston City is the city that has the largest number of black people with 50 percent of the city’s population being comprised of blacks. However, the black people have been residentially segregated throughout history. From the period 1920s to the 1970s, the city had five functional hazardous waste disposal facilities. All the five landfills were situated in black neighborhoods.

Although the blacks formed the majority of the population, the government was unfair in treating them as all the landfills were located near their neighborhoods .Protests by black communities were also not heeded by the government of the day (Nebel & Wright, 1993, P.330).

The effects of the location of hazardous waste facilities in poor communities

The following are the main sources that produce hazardous wastes i.e. landfills, paper mills, funeral homes, metal manufacturers and hospitals. Communities that live near hazardous wastes are usually exposed to serious health problems. Hazardous waste facilities have a major effect on people’s health.

Hazardous waste usually causes some of the worst human disorders. Some of the major ailments that are associated with hazardous waste facilities includes birth defects, cancer and gene alterations. Other minor ailments that are caused by hazardous waste facilities include nausea, migraine headaches and skin alterations. Also, Waste facilities expose the poor communities to noise and nuisances. Exposure to toxics can arise from air, groundwater and soil.

In the United States, more than 800,000 inner-city children have been suffering from lead poisoning which is caused by hazardous wastes. Half of these children are mainly from the poor communities. While all children whether from poor communities or from rich communities are at risk, those from poor communities are at a greater risk of suffering from lead poisoning.

This is due to the following reasons; they are usually located in neighborhoods with hazardous wastes, poor families lack finances of removing hazards from their households, they do not have much access with regards to healthcare facilities among others (Murdock, 1999, P.125).

Hazardous waste facilities cause the property values to decline in the surrounding area. Properties that are at close range to landfills or hazardous waste facilities are eventually devalued. The closeness of the property to hazardous waste facility, the activeness of the site and the disposing off of waste plays a greater role in determining whether the value of the property will decline or not (Bullard, 1993, P.97).

The government’s role in managing hazardous wastes in poor communities

Poor communities are faced with particular challenges in the United States with regards to hazardous waste facilities. Hazardous waste facilities in poor communities are a major environmental concern that should be fully addressed.

In order to minimize health and environmental issues that arises from hazardous waste facilities that are located near poor people’s residential places, the government should adopt a holistic approach and involve all the stakeholders who are involved e.g. the business communities. The poor communities that live near the hazardous waste facilities do not have much control with regards to exposure reduction.

The government should develop short band long term environmental strategies to address the fate of poor communities who lives near hazardous waste facilities. These strategies should incorporate the collection of accurate data concerning the poor communities and also, the government should collaborate with nongovernmental organizations with a view to fully address this environmental concern (Bryant, & Mohai, 1992, P.28).

The government has the role of overseeing its people are not exposed to dangerous chemicals as a result of waste sites that have been located in areas where they live. The government should carry out its rightful role of regulating the disposal of hazardous waste facilities in poor communities.

This is important as it will ensure that environmental injustice does not occur. This can be achieved by the government limiting the number of waste industries in a given region. The government should also act to break down hazardous chemicals into less-toxic chemicals.

Also, the government can store hazardous wastes in a manner that they do not get into contact with the environment. The government can also provide incentives to those industries that do not create much waste. The government should also foster public awareness and public participation (Bryant, & Mohai, 1992, P.82).

The poor communities can also play an important role in managing the hazardous wastes. They can facilitate waste management by choosing not to purchase those goods which are produced through hazardous processes.


The conclusions that are made in this section are based on research findings. The following is the explanation on the location of hazardous waste facilities in poor communities. From the research study, the lack of adequate education is the main factor that exposes the poor communities in the United States to hazardous wastes.

Other factors include oppressions by the majority group, economic reason, poor infrastructural facilities and lack of political will. Hazardous waste facilities have an effect on both environments and on people’s health.

Hazardous waste facilities causes the property values to decline in the surrounding area .The government can solve hazardous waste facility’s issue through such measures as fostering public participation and awareness, providing industries with incentives not to produce much hazardous waste among others.

Reference List

Bryant, B & Mohai, P. (1992). Race and the incidence of environmental hazards: a time for discourse. Boulder: Westview Press.

Bullard, R. (1993).Confronting environmental racism: voices from the grassroots. New York: South End Press.

Faber, D. (1998).The struggle for ecological democracy: environmental justice movements in the United States. New York: Guilford Press.

Hanks, C. (2010). Technology and Values: Essential Readings. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons.

Levenstein, C & Wooding, J. (1997). Work, health, and environment: old problems, new solutions. New York: Guilford Press.

Murdock, S. (1999). Hazardous wastes in rural America: impacts, implications, and options for rural communities. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Nebel, B & Wright and R.1993. Environmental science: the way the world works. London: Prentice Hall Professional.

OECD-Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development: OECD. (2002). Towards Sustainable Household Consumption? Trends and Policies in OECD Countries. New York: ABC Publishing.

Rankin, S, Karen, D and London, F. 2005. Patient education in health and illness. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Santoler, J, Theodore, L & Reynolds, J. (2000). Introduction to hazardous waste incineration. New York: Wiley-IEEE.

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"The location of hazardous waste facilities in poor communities." IvyPanda, 6 June 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/the-location-of-hazardous-waste-facilities-in-poor-communities/.

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