The word holds weight. People will ban together and stomp out clear-cut injustice – but what about when it is hazy? The slow leaching of pollutants into the air and water offers such a hazy, smoggy, situation, as the effects are insidious and can take decades to fully manifest. Environmental hazards seem to be indiscriminate, affecting both rich and poor, but upon further inspection a pattern is clear. On every level of organization from international to citywide, we leave the dirty work to be done by the poor and marginalized out of the sight of tourists and members of the upper class.
Corporations build factories and plants in the poorest of nations, exploit the lack of environmental regulations, and reap the benefit of cheap labor. Cities act as microcosms, shipping the hazards to the outskirts, past the shops and gated communities, straight into the backyard of the poor. There they can do as they please, with few people of wealth and influence to give formidable opposition. With the chemical plants, factories, and landfills come a slew of dangerous and unpleasant chemicals leaching into the nearby air and water. These possible toxins can offer up a variety of problems for communities already burdened with poverty. This is injustice on an environmental scale.
Out of every state, Louisiana as a whole has the second highest death rate from cancer in the country; many researchers believe that this is in part due to Louisiana having the second highest rate of toxic chemical release. This increase in cancer rate is even more prevalent in the “petrochemical corridor” – the area riddled with chemical processing plants along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. This stretch of land shows how drastically chemical plants can affect the health of the populous, earning it the name Cancer Alley. This problem is amplified as it intersects with other dilemmas plaguing our minority communities. Not only do African Americans incur higher cancer rates due to the environmental toxins, but also suffer from higher cancer death rates because of a lower quality of healthcare. This helps to buttress the problem and make a solution that much more urgent.
One would imagine the state or city governments would be attempting an intervention, proposing regulations to soften the blow of these harsh chemicals. Instead, the city is allowing for more carcinogen releasing plants to be built in the areas most affected. New Orleans East, home to many of New Orleans’ working-poor and lower class minorities, is seeing plans for a new multi-million dollar incinerator plant. This is especially hazardous since New Orleans East already has an elevated cancer rate and an incinerator plant will further pollute the air with mercury, dioxins, and lead. However, this will not be the only addition – the city has approved the building of Entergy’s new power plant, providing yet another source of hazardous emissions to this already cancer-stricken community.
Cancer is not the only worry of these communities: poisons being inhaled and ingested daily over the course of decades present many problems, many of which are yet to be discovered. One thing we can know for certain is that the damage done by the environmental pollutants will have a disproportionately detrimental effect on the younger generation. The developing brain is incredibly sensitive to toxins, which can cause a variety of developmental disorders and affect cognitive abilities. Many of the affected people will live in New Orleans East from cradle to grave, being exposed to the pollutants from the earliest stages of development to old age.
Despite being somewhat obvious, these problems are not direct and likewise, come with plausible deniability. In a similar way that cigarette companies denied tobacco’s link to cancer, these companies get away with pumping life-shortening poisons into our citizens’ air because of difficulty in proving causation. Because of this, it is unrealistic to see a total cessation of emissions and it is doubtable that companies will begin to build in less discriminatory locations.
This problem is not due to an evil man in an armchair twirling his mustache, but due to underregulated, profit-driven economics. It is not hard for a corporation, whom is beholden to their shareholders and dedicated to their bottom line, to decide to build in lower income areas – it makes sense financially. So, in order for us to make a change, we must fight for stronger, better-enforced regulations.
Expecting the corporations to sacrifice profit and make the moral decision is unrealistic. We must focus on legally limiting them. We can do this by voting conscious officials into office and raising public awareness of the issue; our representatives need to be held accountable for the environmental hazards they allow our marginalized communities to live in. With a united front, we can push our great city toward safer, more environmentally friendly business practices.