Information Technology Forum
Movementech's Environmental Justice
Environmental Background Information Center (EBIC) began experimenting with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in 1996 by gathering data and software from the Environmental Protection Agency. However, it did not become a major component of EBIC's work until 1998. In 2002, EBIC spun off a new organization called Movementech to do this work in earnest. For purposes of clarity, this web page describes work done by EBIC, which is now being carried forward by the same people, under Movementech.
Visualization through GIS of the environmental, health, racial and economic impacts of harmful corporate activities provides the opportunity to tranform a technology created for military purposes into powerful organizing, cen our board directed us to aggressively pursue GIS capability. Thanks to two grants of software and data from the Environmental Science Research Institute (ESRI) we have dramatically expanded our capacity to assist communities most in need ofommunication, and mobilization tools. What follows are brief discussions of some of our projects to date.
Fort Valley, GA (click for the full report)
The Woolfolk Citizens Response Group (WCRG) is an organization formed to address community concerns surrounding the presence of the Woolfolk Chemical Works National Priority List (NPL) Superfund toxic waste site in Fort Valley, Georgia. Because of its experience with that site, WCRG has expanded its role over time to look at threats to the health, well being and future community development of Fort Valley and Peach County. The WCRG is assisting the Middle Georgia Advisory Group, a grassroots group in neighboring Byron, organize around such issues as a proposed regional landfill and an existing toxic waste site. Fort Valley, GA, a company town in Middle Georgia, is in Peach County (pop 23,688). According to 2000 U.S. Census Statistics, Peach County is 45.4% African American. Georgia is 28.7% African American. Fort Valley is predominantly African American (74.7%). 8,005 people reportedly lived in Fort Valley in 2000. 5,816 of that total population (72.7%) are of voting age. The voting age population in Fort Valley is 72% African American.
County hosts a number of existing environmental contamination
problems. Our analysis indicates that most of these facilities
are located in predominantly minority areas and that they may
pose ongoing threats to human health and safety. Moreover, historical
analysis of contamination problems in Peach County strongly suggests
that state enforcement of environmental laws has been insufficient
to protect the public from the threat of illegal activity harmful
to the enviroment and public health. This fact, taken by itself,
is enough to cause a reasonable person to have legitimate and
well grounded concerns about any new environmental health threats
to people in the county such as the Aldridge landfill might provoke.
It is quite clear that the best way to stop environmental contamination
in Peach County is to prevent activities that might cause that
sort of harm, before they go into operation. Overall demographic
profiles indicate a larger than expected minority population impacted
by toxic threats in Peach County. For example, though only slightly
less than 20% of the entire population of Peach County lives within
3/4's of one mile from the three facilities discussed in this
report, the population that does live within 3/4's of one mile
is 75.6% black. Moreover, 50% of the black population of Peach
County lives within 3/4's of one mile from these three facilities.
Economic statistics also indicate a higher level of poverty, lower
income levels and slightly to moderately lower educational attainment
in census block groups containing the Woolfolk and Blue Bird facilities
first GIS project emerged out of a request from the Harrisburg Area
Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP) to investigate a proposed medical waste disposal
facility. The NAACP branch was concerned about the fact that the
proposed site for this large-scale operation was located adjacent
to a very low income, predominantly minority neighborhood.
demographic analysis yielded the following information:
EBIC's second GIS project arose when the Citizens Environmental Coalition in Medina, NY contacted us with concerns about toxic emissions form Eastman Kodak Company. In terms of toxic emissions, Eastman Kodak's Rochester facility was the number one polluter in Monroe County, the most polluted county in New York State. Eastman Kodak released over 64 different toxic chemicals on a regular basis. This includes over 6.5 million pounds of toxic air pollutants and 600,000 pounds of toxic water pollutants released in 1996 (the most recent year for which data was available). Kodak released over 2.4 million pounds of the carcinogen dichloromethane into the air in 1996. In addition to these releases there are numerous EPA reports of accidental spills.
Geographic analysis of the surrounding communities, illustrated in maps 2.1 through 2.6, revealed the following:
of this Fight: Ongoing Campaign -
EBIC’’s third GIS project was requested by the Acmar/Moody Environmental Justice Society in Alabama. These citizens raised concerns over the Acmar landfill, a large, solid waste disposal facility located in Moody, Alabama just outside of Birmingham. The landfill operation was responsible for the uncontrolled release of pollutants into nearby waterways. EBIC’’s corporate research revealed that the landfill was being operated in violation of the law by individuals with criminal records. Federal authorities had linked these operators with New York area organized crime figures.
The Acmar landfill study demonstrates how GIS analysis can be used to help citizens visualize the environmental and social consequences of a dangerous waste disposal operation. This research project helped EBIC document how environmental crimes can impact a broad range of human populations crossing class and race lines.
GIS analysis yielded the following information:
New Orleans, LA
EBIC’’s fourth GIS project was conducted at the request of the Louisiana Chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Our mapping analysis focused on twelve industrial facilities in Jefferson and Orleans Parishes and the census block groups in their immediate vicinity. The purpose of this project was to aid in an effort to build a labor/community coalition on environmental issues. The overall goal was to summarize the demographic data of the communities adjacent to the industrial facilities and to combine this with environmental data on each facility. The environmental data included emissions, storage and transport of hazardous waste, and spills. We also provided general background information about chemicals being released.
The combination of GIS and environmental analysis was summarized using three separate “focus areas” or clusters of facilities. Sample maps for one of the focus areas are shown in maps 4.1 through 4.5. The analysis resulted in the following findings :
In response to our continued work with them, Beulah Labostrie, LA-ACORNS’s president said, “They think that ACORN has Philadelphia lawyers helping us out. They are very close, because we do have Pennsylvania’s best minds–from the Environmental Background Information Center!”
for the full draft report)
was invited by the Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living
to examine the community structure of Chester, Pennsylvania using
GIS to help visualize demographic conditions in communities impacted
by manufacturing and waste disposal facilities. The results show
that the facilities in Delaware County and Chester are located in
areas wiht high percentages of people living in poverty and people
of minority status with low levels of educational attainment. According
to the 1990 Census,
on the Map to see a Larger Version
New Jersey and Pennsylvania
This project is being developed for the Pennsylvania Environmental Network. It is an analysis of the spatial relationship between the distribution of human population, sources of environmental risks, and major transportation routes. The project is aimed at the problem of environmental justice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Preliminary results reveal interesting details which we believe add to our understanding of the origins and dimensions of social inequality. Our data shows inequality at multiple levels of geographic scale but not at all scales. Finer geographic units of scale tend to undercut the arguement that polluting facitilities are located in poor and minority neighborhoods. However, these finer scale analyses actually redirect social inequality more precise spatial analysis lines. We believe this approach also advances the use of Geographic Information Systems in the understanding of important human social problems.
findings of this analysis tell us that proximity to transportation
routes is closely related to the presence of sources of environmental
risk. (Here risk is “indicated” by facilities reporting
the release of toxic chemicals to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory
and facilities permitted to handle hazardous waste under the Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act.) These findings imply
that a thorough inquiry into issues of environmental equity should
look at the convergence of these phenomena and their relationship
to the distribution of human populations. A thorough analysis
should also be prepared to address multiple levels of scale and
should be explicit about how research decisions regarding the
design of the analytical model impact the results of the analysis.
assists groups such as the Allegheny Defense Project (ADP) in
demonstrating environmental degradation at the ecosystem level.
GIS technology, together with environmental data made publicly
available by government agencies, can be used to illustrate such
problems as water contamination, forest decline, loss of
wetlands and open space, and the disappearance of species.
When ecosystem data is used together with socioeconomic and business
information, it becomes possible to demonstrate the social consequences
of environmental degradation and dispel the myth that ecological
preservation is incompatible with economic prosperity. ADP
requested EBIC to provide maps to support its efforts to have
the Tionesta Natural Area upgraded to a federally protected wilderness
area. We are currently helping them develop a rationale
for the proposed boundary of the new area based on watershed boundaries.
We are also contributing a calculation of the mileage of
existing roads in the area as well as a few specific maps for
a paper they seek to have published in Natural Areas Journal to
call attention to the issue.
The health survey form was designed and circulated by members of Organized Northeasterners/Clay Hill and North End (ONE/CHANE) of Hartford under a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ONE/CHANE is a neighborhood organization based in the North End of Hartford. It is affiliated with the Hartford Environmental Justice Network (HEJN). HEJN is a coalition of twenty-two health and neighborhood organizations and the local affiliate of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ). CCEJ is an umbrella group for a network of grassroots activists working in urban areas of Connecticut on local environmental issues (see Appendix II for a description).
The Coalition works with regional groups such as the Toxics Action Center (TAC). It was through the course of two conferences in Connecticut and Massachusetts hosted by the TAC that the CCEJ's Dr. Mark Mitchell met and began working with Dr. Brian Lipsett of the Environmental Background Information Center (EBIC). Dr. Mitchell is President of CCEJ, a director on the Greater Hartford Hispanic Health Council, and former director of the Hartford Health Department. He has a MD from the University of Missouri and a Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins. Brian Lipsett is organizing director of the EBIC and has a PhD in Administration of Justice from Penn State University.
Mitchell and CCEJ derived preliminary results from the analysis
which showed that asthma is fairly evenly distributed among households
throughout the city. However, a preliminary analysis of cough
and sore throats lasting longer than two weeks and respiratory
problems lasting longer than one month appeared to be more common
in the southern part of the city. This result is consistent with
anecdotal reports from residents that many Hartford residents
get "colds" that last for months. This is contrary to the duration
of viral upper respiratory illness (the common cold) reported
in the medical literature which is described as lasting from 4
to 10 days.
The Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice is an organization that was established in Hartford in the summer of 1997. It was formed in response to community concerns about the siting of yet another fossil-fueled power generator in South Hartford as a consequence of the closure of Connecticut's nuclear power plants. Residents were concerned that this was the tenth power generator to be situated next to a neighborhood that is 80% Black and Latino and that this neighborhood is already overburdened with significant sources of air pollution, and its inhabitants suffer accordingly. CCEJ researched the issue, raised public awareness about the relationship between air pollution and respiratory health, requested a public hearing, and arranged the first environmental public information session sponsored by competing neighborhood groups. This was a highly successful strategy that led to an agreement whereby Northeast Utilities took the unprecedented step of removing the new power generator.
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) in asked EBIC to help them research, analyze and map community health in Pennsylvania in order to identify communities in need of environmental protection. PILCOP is developing health-based criteria to screen sites targeted for environmentally hazardous facilities in PA. In support of this work, we are thematically mapping statistics for four health outcomes in Pennsylvania including total mortality, cancer mortality, infant mortality, and low birth weight. PILCOP's proposal represents a bold departure from the cumulative risk assessment model favored by regulatory authorities. Their novel approach is to identify communities plagued by substandard health and then take them off the map as potential hosts for any further environmental insult or degradation.