It’s time to get WOKE to environmental justice; stop poisoning Black Americans

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Graphic Artist Isabel Le

Long-term exposure to air pollution correlates to higher death rates from COVID-19.

Jessica Braun, Contributing Writer

It’s hard to escape the rising voices crying out for equality and justice, nor should we try to silence them. There has been a radical shift for many white Americans in the last year regarding our perspective of how existing systems have given us privilege and advantages from an early age. The Corona virus has exposed the huge systemic inequality that exists within our society in a way we can no longer ignore. The term “white privilege” is something many Americans are uncomfortably coming to terms with.  We need to recognize this term is not an insult nor it is an accusation. Simply put, it is a measurable gap with real-world consequences.

Why have there been so many Black and Latino deaths due to COVID-19?  Because they have been living in poisoned communities.  The greatest pollution-related burdens in the state are borne within zip codes that have the highest concentration of BIPOC residents, poverty levels, and lower educational attainment. These communities are 75% more likely than others to live near facilities that produce hazardous waste.  Six of the seven trash incinerators in Minnesota are located in low-income and communities of color.

Incinerators burn both plastics and metal in addition to garbage.  These incinerators, such as the Hennepin County Energy Resource Center (HERC) located next to North Minneapolis, are known emitters of nitrous oxide, mercury, lead, particulates, and carbon dioxide.  These pollutants are linked to higher rates of cancer, respiratory issues, birth defects and endocrine diseases.  Our communities of color have alarmingly high, and still rising, rates of asthma and diabetes, in both adults and children, which are a known result of air pollution. This is not a health issue impacting only our state, it is a crisis mirrored throughout our minority communities across the country.

Map Covanta (HERC) 1,000 ton/day Trash Incinerator
BIPOC residents are 75% more likely than others to live near facilities that produce hazardous waste. (Photo Credit: Energy Justice Network)

Studies are showing the link between long-term exposure to air pollution correlating to higher death rates from COVID-19. The blunt facts of these findings are this; communities with higher pollution levels have the highest hospitalizations and death rates in the country.  These communities are already dealing with higher respiratory and cardiovascular ailments as a result of their environment. This is a call to action to protect the health and well-being of these communities by reducing their exposure to toxic pollution in their environments.

If over the last year you’ve finally realized you are the product of privilege, white or otherwise, you’ve begun to realize your voice has the power to make a difference. The voice of privilege is often the only voice in the room that is listened to. You cannot advocate for social change without addressing environmental justice concerns. Social justice IS environmental justice. The high rate of poverty, illness and death in our BIPOC communities is a direct result of decades of systemic racism and deliberate poisoning of their environments. It’s time to demand a clean and safe environment for the most oppressed among us. The question you should ask yourself is what are you going to do with your voice.