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Environmental Injustices

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I recently read an article released by the Washington Post titled, “Pollution is segregated, too” that speaks to the environmental injustices plaguing our nation. Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that minorities are most affected by nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant released by cars that contributes to the formation of smog. Nitrogen dioxides have also been linked to higher risks of asthma and heart attacks. No matter if minorities live in rural states or the cleanest cities, minorities are more exposed to pollution than whites. The researches also found that on average minorities are exposed to 38 percent higher levels of outdoor nitrogen dioxides than whites. This article and findings is one of many that chronicle environmental injustice in the US. Interestingly, the article spoke about whites, Hispanics and blacks but failed to mention an important group, Native Americans.

On Tuesday night I attended an intimate event at GW that featured a speaker who does work in Appalachia with communities who are affected by coal mining and mountain top removal. Students from the Native American Student Association were present and shared some of their stores. Native Americans are a specific minority that most tend to forget about. This past summer I learned about the Native American population in the US and how vastly different the health of the tribes are in comparison to those who do not live on reservations. I heard different Native American tribe members talk about the daily issues they faced. The health statistics that are present are staggering especially because suicide is the 8th leading cause of death. I learned that a lot of data is missing from these communities and that no one actually knows the real numbers behind the mortality and morbidity in the tribes. Although concrete statistics are lacking, members can see that the circumstances are grave in different communities.

During Powershift, an environmental youth activist conference, I heard horrifying stories from frontline communities in North Dakota where fracking is taking place. Migrant workers now overrun communities that were once peaceful. There is an influx of vehicles as well as violence, car accidents, drugs, and diseases. To make matters worse the communities do not receive any monetary compensation and are expected to deal with these abrupt changes. Although I live in Texas where fracking is also becoming prominent, I live in a massive city where I do not see the firsthand effects of fracking.

While doing my research for the agency scorecards, I have seen that Native American tribes are included in every agencies’ environmental justice strategic plans. I am interested to see if/what research will come from this rejuvenated effort to focus on Native American tribes. More data and research would vastly help tribes fight the different injustices plaguing them. Health statistics are difficult to ignore and a powerful weapon that can be wielded against those causing these environmental injustices. This is a group of people that I think everyone should keep in mind along with every other minority group. I know I honestly did not pay attention before to tribal populations, but now that I have a better understanding of this group I hope others will have the same realization I have had. Earth Day is approaching on Tuesday, April 22nd. Use this time to reflect and learn something new like I recently did!

Written by: Mayra Cruz