Provide the highest level of safety, and
mentally damaged geographical areas. The de‐ velopment and refinement of meaningful per‐ formance measures to track our EJ enforcement activities is an ongoing process and a priority.
Many of today’s serious environmental and health challenges are rooted in our past. As early as three centuries ago, the United States experienced grave environmental problems as it tried to accommodate its rapidly expanding ur‐ ban populations. Sewage and garbage disposal, noxious facilities, polluted water and air were urgent problems in many U.S. cities. America’s urbanization was accompanied by social stratifi‐ cation and racial and class tensions. By the early 1900s, zoning laws began to formalize the sepa‐ ration of races, reduce animus and protect public health.5 Meantime, people of means could and did move away from the environmental prob‐ lems.
Today, our water is more likely to be con‐ taminated with pesticides and toxic chemicals than sewage and trash. Modern transportation has given rise to global warming and discovery of unhealthy air pollutants such as ultrafine particu‐ lates. Solid waste, which now includes plastics, chemicals, electronics and other toxic compo‐ nents, is a major problem as landfill space fills up
In Wilmington, a community near the Port of Los Angeles, it is common to see lines of diesel semitrailers. The rigs have been spotted a block from an elementary school, parked and idling, without drivers inside, as diesel emissions spew into the air.
5 Dorceta E. Taylor, The Environment and the People in Amer‐ ica Cities, 1600s – 1900s: Disorder, Inequality and Social Change, Duke University Press (2009) pp. 381‐404.
Mission Statement: protect public health and the environment from toxic harm.
and EJ communities oppose new facilities. To‐ day, noxious facilities are found in both urban and rural EJ communities. The politics of locat‐ ing or expanding dumps and noxious facilities, or zoning that puts new developments next to dumps and noxious facilities, are major EJ is‐ sues, especially in a populous state like Califor‐ nia. The state already has the highest concentra‐ tion of minorities living near hazardous waste facilities in the United States.
In San Bernardino County, the rear yard of a day care center backs up to an unfenced cement facility, above, where dust and debris can affect toddlers’ health. Vibrations from the facility have shaken tiles off bathroom walls at nearby homes.
California’s EJ communities continue to bear an inequitable proportion of environ‐ mental burdens and health risks. Simply stated, many of the state’s worst environmental harms and health risks are found in the “belly of the beast” ‐‐ the EJ communities that don’t have strong, consistent environmental enforcement.
But the situation is different now than than it was historically. We can no longer move away from communities with the worst environ‐ mental problems and be assured we are safe from toxic harm. Science tells us that today’s environmental harms — such as air pollutants and contaminated water — are not confined by geographic boundaries. Nor, for that matter, can they be easily exported to foreign coun‐ tries. Our serious environmental problems and the public health problems that they can cause can reach us all.