What You Need to Know About Environmental Racism

People of Color are Exposed to Toxins at a Higher Rate

Environmental racism is real. Here are some stats:

“People of color living in Indiana and Alabama are exposed to roughly twice as much PM 2.5 pollution as white people.” insideclimatechange.org

“Drinking water systems that constantly violated the law for years were 40 percent more likely to occur in places with higher percentages of residents who were people of color, according to EPA data from 2016-2019 analyzed in the report.” The NRDC

“A 2013 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that although blood lead levels among US children have dramatically dropped since the late 1990s, average blood lead levels among black children (1 to 5 years old) between 2007 and 2010 were still roughly 38 percent higher than they were among their white peers.” Vox.com

Food Deserts

A food desert is a community that lacks access to adequate, nutritional groceries. Supermarkets in these areas tend to focus on processed foods high in sugar and chemicals. Oftentimes the only food sources within a mile of one’s home are fast food outlets and convenience stores. Yet, these citizens also are much more likely to not own a car to enable them to easily reach food sources outside their immediate area.

88,000 Birmingham residents are living in areas that have been designated “food deserts,” and almost all of the residents are Black or Latino.

The Urban Food Project

This lack of access to healthy foods contributes to high rates of obesity, cancers and heart disease, amont other health issues.

food deserts are examples of environmental racism
Food deserts are examples of environmental racism

Toxic Beauty Products

It is obvious from this study orchestrated by the reputable Environmental Working Group (EWG), that there is a huge discrepancy between the safety of beauty products marketed to blacks and those marketed to whites.

Higher levels of parabens, phthalates, diethyl phthalate, fragrances, nonylphenols, and cyclosiloxane have been found in these products. These are chemicals that have been linked to breast cancer and damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system.

toxic beauty products exhibit the pervasive problem of environmental racism
toxic beauty products exhibit the pervasive problem of environmental racism

Toxin-free Beauty Companies that are Racially Inclusive

Thankfully, there are some safe beauty companies that do include women of color in their marketing and product focus. Here are some of the good ones.


Industrial Air Pollution

Black Americans are three times more likely than their white counterparts to die as a result of air pollution


Our rapidly increasing air pollution quantities coming from sources such as factories and cars, is responsible for 100,000 deaths in our country every year. Even as white neighborhoods have cleaned up significantly over the past decade, black communities continue to bare the brunt of it. Even more unjust is the fact that it is white people who are creating a highly disproportionate amount of this burden through air polluting activities.

industrial air pollution to air & water affects black communities at much higher rates
industrial pollution to both air & water affects black communities at much higher rates

Industrial Water Pollution

Landfills, hazardous waste sites, and other industrial facilities are most often located in communities of color.

Center for American Progress

Flint, Michigan

What happened in Flint, Michigan merely six years ago is a perfect example of the propensity of this tragedy. In 2014, Flint’s local government officials made the decision to switch the city’s water source from clean and pure Lake Huron to the horribly polluted Flint River. They did this in order to save money. 56% of Flint’s residents are black.

Immediately following this transition, Flint’s residents began to report strange-looking, foul-smelling tap water. Their hair began to fall out in many instances. Many of these people were experiencing sudden, unexplained rashes. And those were just the most obvious symptoms.

Toxic Buildings


It was later discovered through testing that lead levels in Flint, Michigan’s city water were shockingly high. Water is not the only source through which black Americans receive a disproportionate amount of lead exposure, however. They also are much more likely to live in deteriorating old buildings where lead paint is flaking off These situations make it readily available for consumption by black toddlers and inhalation by everyone else.

Black children living below the US federal poverty level are four times as likely to have elevated levels of lead in their blood than poor white or Hispanic children.

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

There is no safe level of lead to have in one’s body. Lead exposure decreases IQ levels and is especially harmful to children of preschool age or younger whose brains are in the process of their deepest developments.


Asbestos was commonly used as insulation in buildings for much of the 20th century, but it is dangerous if it becomes loose and fibers enter the air. It was banned in the 1970s.

The Notebook

Asbestos, like so many other toxic environmental substances, affects our black and brown communities at much higher rates. Most recently, primarily black public schools in Philadelphia have taken heat for doing a very poor job of removing the asbestos from their schools. In fact, they allowed unsafe levels to escape into the air where poor black students were picking up their free meals on a daily basis.

Environmental Justice Organizations you can Support

There is no reason all citizens in this country should not have access to basic human rights such as clean air and water. We are not a third world country as a whole; however, many black and brown communities in this country are being forced to live like it.

If you would like to be part of the solution, please check out some of these environmental justice organizations. Support from many white voices will give them the power they need to make some much-needed changes in how black people live in this country. This list was created by my toxins instructor, Lara Adler.

National Black Environmental Justice Network https://www.nbejn.com/

Deep South Center for Environmental Justice https://www.dscej.org/

Climate Justice Alliance https://climatejusticealliance.org/

Center for Earth Energy & Democracy http://ceed.org/

Green Action for Health & Environmental Justice http://greenaction.org/

We Act for Environmental Justice https://www.weact.org/

Earth Guardians https://www.earthguardians.org/

Trap Garden https://trapgarden.org/

Cultural Survival https://www.culturalsurvival.org/

Black Farmers & Urban Gardners  https://www.blackurbangrowers.org/

Environmental Health Coalition https://www.environmentalhealth.org/

Community to Community https://www.foodjustice.org/

Indigenous Environmental Network https://www.ienearth.org/

Outdoor Afro  https://outdoorafro.com/

California Environmental Justice Organization  https://cejcoalition.org/

North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems https://www.natifs.org/

Agricultural Justice Project https://www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org/

Voces Verdes: Latio Leadership In Action https://www.vocesverdes.org/voces-in-action

Green For All https://www.thedreamcorps.org/our-programs/green-for-all/

Minnesota Brownfields https://mnbrownfields.org/

Zero Hour http://thisiszerohour.org/

Sunrise Movement https://www.sunrisemovement.org/


If you are interested in gaining access to my green mama vault of toxin-free, sustainable living resources, sign up here!

environmental racism





  1. I have definitely noticed this particularly with food – the suburb that I worked in was mostly Pacific Island and Maori population (in NZ) and the amount of fast food outlets within the town centre was insane. Very limited access to fresh produce!

  2. I remember learning about food deserts in grad school. Very important information presented all around. I want everyone to live in a safe and healthy environment!!!

  3. Wow! So much that I never knew or thought about. Thank you for enlightening others to other things that need to change in our society.

  4. Hard reality. Can’t believe this is the world we live in. I really feel like it starts with our own decision to live and raise our children to live differently.

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