Thursday, May 21, 2015

From NIMBY to civil rights

A couple of weeks ago we posted on the first article in Environmental History's virtual issue on environmental justice. The second is Eileen Maura McGurty's 1997 "From NIMBY to Civil Rights: The Origins of the Environmental Justice Movement". The article begins:
In the summer of 1978, Robert Burns and his two sons drove liquid tanker trucks along rural roads in thirteen North Carolina counties and through remote sections of the Fort Bragg Military Reservation. Driving at night to avoid detection, they opened the bottom valve of the tanker and discharged liquid contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) removed from the Ward Transformer Company in Raleigh onto the soil along the road shoulders. This violation of the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) continued for nearly two weeks until 240 miles of road shoulders were contaminated. Robert Ward had hired the Burnses to illegally dispose of the contaminated liquid in an attempt to avoid the escalating cost of disposal that was due, in part, to increasing regulation of hazardous waste. Since the contamination occurred on state-owned property, North Carolina was responsible for remediation. Within a few months after detecting the contamination, the state devised a plan calling for the construction of a landfill in Warren County, a rural area in northeastern North Carolina with a majority of poor, African-American residents. Warren County also suffered the most contamination of any of the thirteen counties effected by the illegal disposal. A farmer in the small community of Afton, facing a foreclosure and bankruptcy, sold his property to the state for use as a final resting place for the contaminated soil.

The article goes on to discuss the Warren County protests and the foundation of the environmental justice movement.

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