"Pollution Weary Minorities Try Civil-Rights Track"
                  Copyright 1993 The New York Times Company
The New York Times

                 January 11, 1993, Monday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 1; Column 2; National Desk

LENGTH: 1925 words

HEADLINE: Pollution-Weary  Minorities Try Civil Rights  Tack



    In separate but strikingly similar grass-roots protests,
hundreds of black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian groups
are battling pollution hazards by arguing that their
neighborhoods have become America's industrial dumping grounds
because they are poor and powerless.

   Under the banner of environmental justice, these local
groups have developed  into a powerful new social movement that
is applying the language and strategies of the civil rights
movement to counter health threats as varied as toxic dumping
and lead poisoning.

    "We are the real endangered species in America, people of
color," said Susana Almanza, a leader of a community protest in
Austin, Tex., that succeeded  last fall in forcing the closing
of a gasoline terminal in a black and Hispanic  residential
area. "We're the ones who are dying with the cancer clusters
and the birth defects because of the air we breathe."
Evidence of Inequity

    A growing body of evidence that minorities suffer the most
from pollution and benefit the least from cleanup programs is
transforming environmental politics. Many civil rights and
environmental organizations have re-examined their agendas and
constituencies, and some are giving grass-roots groups advice
and support.

   In June, the movement received an important measure of
official recognition when a report by the Federal Environmental
Protection Agency found evidence that racial and ethnic
minorities suffer disproportionate exposure to dust, soot,
carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur, sulfur dioxide and lead, as
well as emissions from hazardous-waste dumps.

   And just last week in Texas state regulators, citing the
E.P.A. study, formed a group to study why environmental hazards
are concentrated in minority communities and to see what laws
or policies should be changed.

   So far, no court ruling has clearly supported claims of
civil rights violations in the selection of sites for
operations that produce pollution, although several lawsuits
are pending. Executives of companies involved in such  cases
often argue that no discrimination exists and that such
decisions are based on a variety of economic factors.

    "Not only have we not targeted communities of color, but
our facilities are distributed evenly around various
demographic groups," said Chuck McDermott, director of
political and business issues for Waste Management Inc., a
company involved in several disputes.

   With little coordination and with no well-known national
leaders, the environmental justice movement has developed out
of many individual local protests, usually focused on a single
nearby problem. No one really knows the movement's size, but in
October 1991 about 500 representatives of community groups met
in Washington for The First National People of Color
Environmental Summit.

   The movement in the United States has grass-roots
counterparts in many developing nations, like Costa Rica, India
and Indonesia. Organizers in the United States and those in
third world countries face arguments that pollution is an
economic necessity.   New Alliances Taking Shape

    The West Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice is only
two years old, but with more than 2,000 members, almost all
black or Hispanic, it has become one of the largest and most
visible minority organizations in the area. The coalition's
cause is to fight for the cleanup of polluted soil from a lead
smelter that closed in 1984 after operating for 55 years.

   In lawsuits against local, state and Federal agencies and in
dozens of protests, the coalition has argued that hundreds of
residents suffer from lead poisoning because of discrimination
in land use, housing, health and environmental-cleanup
policies. As a result, several new testing programs have been
started to determine the extent of the pollution and the blood
poisoning it caused.

   Many health experts say lead is the most widespread
environmental hazard in minority communities. The effects of
lead poisoning can extend from headaches and nausea to
permanent brain damage, especially in children.

   Research by the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and
Disease Registry has  shown that lead from plumbing, house
paints and contaminated soils reaches many  poor children of
all races. But in an unexplained disparity, a 1988 study
concluded that black children, regardless of their families'
income, were much more likely than white children to have
unacceptably high levels of lead in their blood.

    In some cases, residents have blocked new installations
that would have brought jobs to their area. In the past year,
the residents of Kettleman City, Calif., most of whom are
Hispanic, won a court judgment that has at least temporarily
blocked plans for the incinerator in their San Joaquin Valley
town,  which is already the site of a vast toxic-waste

   And the black residents of Wallace, La., helped scuttle
plans to build a $700 million wood pulp and rayon plant on one
of the last nonindustrial stretches of  the Mississippi River
between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.

   As local movements have grown and some established national
organizations have joined the battle, some new alliances
crossing racial and class boundaries  have begun to take shape
-- though they have been no more free of tensions than  have
other contacts across racial and class lines.

   In New York, for instance, the Natural Resources Defense
Council joined with  several Harlem groups last fall to file a
suit in State Supreme Court contending that smells from the
North River Sewage Treatment Plant violate the rights of local
citizens to breathe fresh air, and that the operation was
placed in a poor community because more politically powerful
neighborhoods in Manhattan rejected  it.

    Ernesto Cortes, southwest director of the Industrial Areas
Foundation, a nationwide network of community groups, said:
"People used to look at the dump at the end of the block and
think it was just a neighborhood problem. Then they  saw it in
other communities and it became a city problem, then regional,
and now, as more information comes out, it's becoming a
national issue."

   Robert D. Bullard, a sociologist at the University of
California at Riverside, is widely credited with conducting the
first extensive research that  linked an environmental hazard
to the race of those exposed to it. In a 1979 study in Houston,
he showed that since the 1920's all the city-owned landfills
and six of the eight garbage incinerators had been in black
neighborhoods even though Houston was once an overwhelmingly
white city.

   The first solid evidence of inequities on a national scale
emerged from a study published in 1987 by the United Church of
Christ's Commission for Racial Justice, which found that race,
even more than poverty, was the shared characteristic of
communities exposed to toxic wastes.   Minority Population A
Significant Factor

    Through an examination of neighborhoods surrounding
commercial hazardous-waste treatment, storage and disposal
operations, the study concluded that a large minority
population was the most statistically significant factor those
communities had in common. And the size of the minority
population seemed to grow with the potential environmental
hazard so that the proportion of minorities in communities with
the largest such operations was three times greater than that
of neighborhoods with none.

   "The possibility that these patterns resulted by chance is
virtually impossible," the report said.

   Industry spokesmen argue that instead of looking at the
contemporary population near sources of pollution researchers
should focus on the makeup of the communities around plants or
dumps when they were built. The industry representatives argue
that many old industrial operations were surrounded by white
working-class neighborhoods that have only recently become
minority communities.

   Those in the environmental justice movement argue that it
matters little whether the pollution was brought into
neighborhoods or whether minority groups  were steered into
already contaminated communities by patterns of residential

    But corporate spokesmen like Mr. McDermott of Waste
Management say there are  often compelling reasons for the
choice of a site that have nothing to do with the makeup of the
population.  For example, he said, the site of a landfill near
the predominantly poor, black town of Emelle, Ala., was chosen
largely because an E.P.A. study found that it had the ideal

   Lawyers working on behalf of grass-roots environmental
groups agree that such arguments can make it virtually
impossible to prove intentional discrimination,  which is
necessary to win most civil rights cases.

   "The only way to ever decisively and permanently win these
battles is through the political process," said Luke Cole, a
lawyer for California Legal Assistance who argued the case
against Waste Management in Kettleman City. "When a community
organizes itself at the grass roots, we can exercise our power,
the power of people."

   The people of Wallace, almost all of them black and poor,
fought plans by the Formosa Plastics Corporation to build one
of the world's largest wood pulp and rayon plants.

   "When we started out in 1989, there were a few of us who
wanted to ask questions about this thing but we didn't even
really know what questions to ask," said Wilfred M. Greene, a
70-year-old retired school principal who became  leader of the

   The National Toxics Campaign, an environmental organization
based in Boston,  produced a 19-page report for the people of
Wallace in 1990 assessing the pollution the plant might cause.

   As Mr. Greene put it, "We could organize and meet all we
wanted, but we only  really started moving things when we got
expertise on our side."

   Backed by scientific and legal counsel, the people of
Wallace tied up the licensing process until Formosa canceled
its plans in October.   Two Movements Come Together

    The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the
United Church of  Christ Commission for Racial Justice, said:
"The idea of civil rights is expanding to include freedom from
pollution, and an emphasis on social justice is being added to
the idea of environmental protection."

   Some concepts underlying the civil rights struggle have been
used in an environmental cause most prominently in a series of
similar lawsuits filed in the last three years in California,
Mississippi and Texas. The suits have demanded that poor
children get more extensive tests for lead poisoning.
Underlying the legal efforts is the assertion that adequate
screening for an environmental health hazard is guaranteed
under Federal civil rights laws.

   Reflecting the alliances formed by the environmental justice
movement, the legal teams bringing these cases have included
the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense and
Educational Fund and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.

   The alliance of the established civil rights and
environmental organizations  with the grass-roots groups has
also created friction, often reflecting the different interests
of middle-class environmentalists and poor communities, where
industries, even polluting industries, have been an essential
source of money.

   "Working people don't want to live with a dangerous
environment, but they do  need a viable economic community,"
Mr. Cortes said. "There have to be plans for  a transition, for
other jobs, for training. Among people who are well off there
is a tendency to assume away those questions, but we can't
afford to do that."

 GRAPHIC: Photos: The location of a gasoline terminal near the
homes of black and Hispanic families in Austin prompted a
neighborhood protest. (Lisa Davis for The New York Times) (pg.
A1); "When we started out in 1989, there were a few of us who
wanted to ask questions about this thing but we didn't even
really know what questions to ask," said Wilfred M. Greene,
left, who became leader of protests against plans by the
Formosa Plastics Corporation to build one of the world's
largest wood pulp and rayon plants in Wallace, La. He walked
through Willow Bend Community Cemetery with Nathalie M. Walker,
a lawyer with the New Orleans office of the Sierra Club Legal
Defense Fund, which represented the people of Wallace.  (Matt
Anderson for The New York Times) (pg. B7)

Graphs: "Race, Poverty and the Environment: Air Quality . . ."
shows the
following percentages of total U.S. white, black and Hispanic
populations living
in areas polluted by:

Dust, soot and other particles

   White -- 15%
   Black -- 17%
   Hispanic -- 34%

Carbon monoxide
   White -- 34%
   Black -- 46%
   Hispanic -- 57%


   White -- 53%
   Black -- 62%
   Hispanic -- 71%

Sulfur dioxide

   White -- 7%
   Black -- 12%
   Hispanic -- 6%


   White -- 6%
   Black -- 9%
   Hispanic -- 19%
(Source: Environmental Protection Agency) (pg. B7)

". . . And Lead Poisoning" shows the following percentages of
children 6 months
to 5 years old, in cities over 1 million population, with high
levels of lead in
their blood:

Family income less than $6,000

   White -- 68%
   Black -- 36%

Family income $6,000 to $15,000

   White -- 54%
   Black -- 23%

Family income more than $15,000

   White -- 38%
   Black -- 12%@@ (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)