Monday, June 21, 2010

Life in the 48217: Not fair, and not justice in the state's most polluted ZIP code

“Environmental Justice” has always seems a poor piece of phraseology. The word “justice” makes me picture either courtroom drama or streets full of angry protesters.

What Environmental Justice http://bit.ly/957ALo means, simply, is that people should not have to live in places with disproportionately high levels of dangerous toxins because of their income level, their race, their neighborhood, or any other socio-economic factor.

That ideal is a long way from reality. Poor people get stuck with the shitty end of the pollution stick all the time. They’re the ones living next to the smokestacks and downstream from the toxic discharges. Many simply can’t afford to move elsewhere. And they lack the political clout (read: money) to change the status quo.

It’s especially unfair to kids. When you’re born into poverty, perhaps to a functionally illiterate parent in a decaying urban neighborhood, how much more of a kick in the teeth is it to have to deal with crippling asthma attacks from smokestack emissions or a nervous system gone haywire from lead? How many combative, violent 6 year olds are written off as bad apples when their issues were simply the neurological fallout of lead poisoning?

Anyway, this tremendous package of stories from the Detroit Free Press’ Tina Lam shows exactly how in the state’s most polluted ZIP code – The 48217 -- our least fortunate citizens get the shaft: http://bit.ly/aiUtMy It has a sidebar gadget that lets you enter your own ZIP code for a ranking, also.

But at least now we have a framework to begin addressing these issues. In 2007 Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed an executive directive that requires the state to begin considering Environmental Justice issues in its decisions: http://bit.ly/bH6ysT

There are concrete steps that can follow. At least 14 states limit how close schools and day care centers can be to sources of toxic discharges. Two states require that regulatory agencies take into account the cumulative impact of pollution sources when issuing permits.

There’s an old saying that a good judge of a society is how it treats its least fortunate citizens. We can do better by The 48217.
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