VOICES: Environmental justice communities bear brunt of BP's oil spill waste disposal

By Robert D. Bullard, OpEdNews

It has been one year since the massive BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster created an environmental nightmare on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The oil disaster killed 11 workers. And for three months the nation watched and held its breath as the busted BP well spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Government officials estimate the ruptured well leaked nearly 200 million gallons of oil in all. The spill fouled 120 miles of U.S. coastline, imperiled multibillion-dollar fishing and tourism industries, and killed birds, sea turtles and dolphins. The full health, environmental and economic impact of this catastrophe may not become clear for decades.

While the media devoted round-the-clock coverage to the well capping and cleanup efforts, not much attention was given to where BP oil spill waste was being disposed. Environmental justice leaders were the first to raise concerns about BP's waste management plan that was approved on June 13, 2010. They questioned a plan that would turn low-income and people of color communities in the Gulf Region into the "dumping grounds" for BP oil waste.  

Although people of color make up about 26 percent of the coastal counties in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the government approved most of the BP oil waste to be trucked to these communities. On July 15, 2010 -- the earliest reporting period -- 39,399 tons of BP waste went to nine landfills; of that amount, 21,867 tons (55.4 percent) were disposed in communities of color and 30,338 tons (77 percent) of oil waste went to communities where the percent people of color was greater than the percent people of color in the host county.

As of April 10, 2011 -- the latest reporting period -- 106,409 tons of BP waste went to 11 landfills, of which 45,032 tons (42.3 percent) went to landfills in majority people of color communities, and 90,554 tons (85.1 percent) went to landfills located in communities whose percent people of color population exceeded the county's percent people of color.

Clearly, one year after the BP oil disaster, environmental justice communities still bear the brunt of the oil waste disposal. These same communities must contend with negative impacts of being on the fence line with landfills but also face environmental health threats from increased truck traffic and vehicle emissions, especially diesel truck emissions. Residents who live fence line with landfills are invisible and forgotten Americans -- another injustice that needs to be corrected.

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Robert D. Bullard directs the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. His most recent book is Environmental Health and Racial Equity in the United States.