Source: NC Newsline
Robeson County not only has one of the highest populations of people of color in North Carolina, but it is also one of the most polluted in the state.
According to a recent report by NC Newsline, Robeson alone has 13 unlined dumps, their contents seeping into the groundwater. Fourteen hazardous waste sites left behind a cancer-causing soup of solvents, pesticides, oils and dyes. Millions of gallons of urine and feces excreted daily by 300,000 hogs, and an untold number of chickens and turkeys. Add to that high levels of PFAS contamination and clear-cutting of forests causing flooding that has wiped out entire neighborhoods.
Robeson County has a disproportionate concentration of polluters compared to the other counties in North Carolina and the impact on the communities there is high. This concentration is not accidental. Communities with high concentrations of pollution-causing sources tend to be non-white and often low-income.
According to Charles Lee, senior policy advisor to the EPA Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, “Systemic factors in society have driven the disproportionate concentration of environmental burdens” into these communities.”
Residents of these communities have long sought solutions and more government oversight of these pollution sources without much success. The NC Department of Environmental Quality contends that its statutory authority to deny a permit based on cumulative impact is limited.
Residents have prevailed in a few cases. In 2018, environmental justice groups reached a settlement with DEQ over the agency’s permitting process for hog farms. But that case took four years. And even though some progress has been made the lives of residents living close to these enormous hog operations have not markedly improved.
The impact of this environmental inequality reaches beyond physical health. The presence of toxic facilities diminishes property values in affected neighborhoods, making it difficult for residents to build generational wealth and secure loans. Consequently, these communities face a persistent cycle of poverty, limited employment opportunities, and decreased access to quality education and healthcare.
We all deserve to live where we feel safe to breathe the air and drink the water. It is tragic that so many in our state suffer from the devastating effects of industrial pollution. North Carolina leaders must embrace environmental justice to ensure a future where every individual, irrespective of race or socioeconomic status, can thrive in a safe and healthy environment.