America's Most Polluting Incinerators Disproportionately Affect Low-Income Neighborhoods and Communities of Color

America's Most Polluting Incinerators Disproportionately Affect Low-Income Neighborhoods and Communities of Color

For decades, the federal government has attempted to better prioritize equity in environmental initiatives. A new report highlights one area in which those efforts have fallen short.

Leah Dunlevy, Pacific Standard, May 21, 2019. Available Here

A new report from the Tishman Environment and Design Center at New York City's New School found that 1.6 million Americans—disproportionately low-income and minority residents—live near the country's 12 most polluting incinerators. And in total, 4.4 million Americans live within three miles of an incinerator.

According to the report, which was commissioned by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and used Environmental Protection Agency data, 79 percent of all municipal solid waste incinerators are located within three miles or less of communities of color and low-income communities. (The authors refer to these as "environmental justice communities.") The placement of incinerators in these communities is not a coincidence, the authors write, arguing that, in fact, it is the result of structurally racist policies such as segregation and expulsive zoning at federal, state, and local levels.

Incinerators release highly polluting emissions, such as mercury, lead, particulate matter, dioxins, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and carbon monoxide. The pollution, which affects surrounding neighborhoods, can cause a variety of health problems for residents, including asthma, heart disease, elevated blood lead levels, and cancer. However, these incinerators negatively impact the health of surrounding communities even when they abide by their permits and regulations, the authors told the Guardian.

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