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EPA vows to examine impact of hazardous waste on poor communities

July 22, 2009 |  5:58 pm

Rialtowaste

The federal Environmental Protection Agency vowed Tuesday to home in on the impact of hazardous waste recycling plants on minorities and low-income communities.

The move hearkens back to a Clinton-era executive order that required federal agencies to consider the impact of their policies on disadvantaged communities. Although the Bush administration largely ignored the mandate, Obama-appointed EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson has promised to analyze those impacts. 

Under the Bush administration, hazardous waste recycling plants had a free pass to process more than 1 million pounds of toxic material without federal oversight. In Los Angeles and other areas, such plants are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities largely populated by non-whites, maps created by Earthjustice show.

Hundreds of hazardous waste recycling facilities in the United States, including 29 in California, have been classified as "damage cases" based on factors such as soil and water contamination that cause lasting health and environmental impacts on the areas that surround them.

Earthjustice said the federal agency's decision to consider race and class in relation to hazardous waste plant locations marks a "sea change" for EPA. But some environmental justice advocates point out that the inequality continues. 

For example, coal ash from a spill in east Tennessee last December has been relocated to areas largely populated by black people in Alabama and Georgia, noted Robert Bullard of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.

"Shipping toxic waste to communities of color is not green," said Bullard. "It's mean and it's unjust and some of us think it should be illegal."

-- Amy Littlefield

Photo: State workers clean up a hazardous waste site in Rialto. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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