December 6, 2014
By Dr. Daniel Faber, Staci Rubin, Esq., and Veronica Eady, Esq. of the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Alliance
As demonstrated by the events following the grand jury decisions regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of the police, racial inequality in America is a cancer. But there is some good news. On November 25, Governor Deval L. Patrick signed a landmark Executive Order on Environmental Justice that requires state agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their actions on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. While this action will not result in immediate healing from a long history of racism, the Commonwealth just took one step toward addressing the legacy of racial injustice. Governor Patrick and his administration deserve congratulations for this historic act.
Environmental justice (EJ) populations reside in 137 of the Commonwealth's 351 municipalities. For too long, residents in these communities have lived with substantially greater risk of exposure to environmental health hazards than the general citizenry. The people of Chelsea, Roxbury, Brockton, New Bedford, Lawrence, Springfield, and other communities must deal daily with the dumping of garbage and chemical waste on vacant lots; toxic air and water contamination from dirty industry, incinerators, and power plants; highly polluting roadways and airports; landfills and trash transfer stations; and/or inadequate public transportation and lack of green space and parks.
A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that Boston has the fourth worse racial disparities of any city in the country with respect to public exposure to nitrogen dioxide, an air pollutant linked to asthma and heart disease. No wonder communities of color such as Dorchester and Roxbury have the highest rates of childhood asthma and emergency room visits in the Commonwealth.