Monday numbers: The link between polluters and impoverished communities

Monday numbers: The link between polluters and impoverished communities

- in Environment, Top Story
DEQ is investigating vapor intrusion into at least seven homes near Patterson Street in Greensboro. The contaminants are chlorinated compounds, which may cause cancer. The source of the contamination is a former solvent facility. The shaded areas represent census tracts. The percentages indicate people who are from communities of color. (Source: EPA EJ Screen, NC DEQ)

Unless you’ve become lost or gone wandering, Hollister, N.C., population 674, in Halifax County is not a place that you merely happen upon. But the state Department of Environmental Quality intentionally chose a spot here among the tobacco fields, the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal Government Complex, to host its inaugural meeting of the state’s first Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board.

Its 16 members, whose individual backgrounds include science, law, public health and community organizing, are charged with “ensuring no community is overlooked,” said DEQ Secretary Michael Regan. “We hope to partner with communities, especially those feeling forgotten. We want to rectify that.”

Environmental discrimination is not unique to North Carolina. For example, just in the past five years, there have been drinking water crises in Flint, Mich., Parkersburg, W.V., and East Chicago, Ind.; and a radioactive waste dump in northwest St. Louis, Mo. 

Many historians, though, peg the beginning of the environmental justice movement to nearby Warren County, where, in the 1980s, residents fought a PCB dump and forced the state to clean up miles of highway where truckers had dumped cancer-causing waste originating in Raleigh.

Rarely do companies site landfills, log fumigation operations, coal ash impoundments, natural gas pipelines, or hazardous waste dumps in wealthy, white neighborhoods. Those residents have the financial, political and social capital to fight back. So these companies look for rural areas, often low-income or communities of color, to dump their waste, to pollute the air, foul the waters. By the time anyone notices, it will be too late. 

Below are examples in several North Carolina counties where vulnerable communities have been harmed by environmental pollution or toxic waste: From dry cleaning solvent, stench and runoff from industrialized hog farms, chemical discharges into drinking water, hazardous air pollutants from factories.

“Follow the science. Follow the law and the rules,” Regan told the board. “And use the science and law to follow justice.”

For full coverage of the meeting, head over to NC Policy Watch’s Progressive Pulse blog at noon.

North Carolina

16.8: Percentage of residents who live at or below the federal poverty level
37.3: Percentage of residents who are from non-white communities

Alamance County

35: Number of inactive hazardous waste sites
27.8: Percentage of Graham residents who live at or below the federal poverty level
11: Number of unlined landfills built and operated before 1983
The Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate project would end in Graham, near Highway 54 Major polluters: Honda Power Equipment, Apollo Chemical, New South Lumber

Bladen County

28.1: Percentage of residents who live at or below the federal poverty level
200: Minimum number of households that are on bottled water because their private drinking water wells were chemically contaminated by Chemours

Percentages of residents who are from communities of color near Superfund sites in Columbus County. The green shaded areas represent census tracts. (EPA EJ screen)

Columbus County

3: Number of federal Superfund sites
14: Number of inactive hazardous waste sites there
23: Percentage of residents who live at or below the federal poverty level
Malec Brothers has proposed operating a log fumigation facility using methyl bromide near Riegelwood and Delco.

Duplin County

2.3 million: Number of hogs
59,039: Number of people
11.9–12.2: Percentage of adults who have been diagnosed with asthma
27.6: Percentage of residents who live at or below the federal poverty line

Halifax County

26.8: Percentage of residents who live at or below the federal poverty level
59: who are from communites of color
8.5 – 9.7: Percentage of adults who have been diagnosed with COPD, emphysema or chronic bronchitis
Polluting industries: Kapstone Paper and Packaging, Perdue Farms
Royal Pest Solutions has proposed building a log fumigation in Scotland Neck. It would emit up to 10 tons of methyl bromide into the air each year. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would also route through the county.

Hertford County

33.8: Percentage of Ahoskie residents who live at or below the federal poverty level
22.7 – 23.9: Percentage of county residents who report their health is fair or poor
Enviva wood pellets operates a facility there.

One-Hour Martinizing, a former dry cleaners in Durham, is on the state’s Superfund list. Harmful vapors and a solvent plume have been found at and adjacent to the site.

Northampton County

59: percentage of residents who are persons of color
27.5 –29.6: Percentage of adults who report having a disability
Polluting industries include an Enviva wood pellet plant, two coal ash dumps (they are not owned by Duke Energy), and a third one proposed by the VistaGreen company. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would enter North Carolina in Pleasant Hill, where Dominion Energy and Duke Energy also plan to build a compressor station.

Robeson County

75: Percentage of residents who are persons of color
41: Of those people, percentage that are American Indian
27.8: Percentage of residents who live at or below the federal poverty level
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would route through Robeson County. Piedmont Natural Gas just announced it plans to build a liquified natural gas operation there.

Source: EPA Environmental Justice Screen, NC Department of Health and Human Services, NC Department of Environmental Quality, US Census, Toxic Release Inventory, county chambers of commerce