Environmental justice


In the US, many cases of environmental inequity have become known and have been discussed in public, e.g. Love Canal, Warren County, Cancer Alley, Times Beach, Kettleman City, East Liverpool, McFarland, West Dallas and Texarkana. Here two examples.


In Woburn, a low-income suburb north of Boston, a conspicuous cumulation of children´s leukemia has been observed in 1969-79. Most of the cases (16 from 28) were letal. For children in Woburn, the relative risk to die from leukemia was 2.5 (compared to the US-average o= 1.0); in East Worburn, where the cluster had first been noted, the factor was even 12. For adults, rates of leukemia and bladder cancer were also clearly elevated. Woburn inhabitants had for a long time complained about murky, ill-smelling and ill-tasting drinking water, without reaction from the authorities.

The leukemia cluster had been discovered by concerned parents and commited epidemiologists, with simple methods and without a research budget, which had been denied. After increasing public pressure made a no-response no longer feasible, the health authority on state level (DPH) tried to play down the issue, but had to concede a doubling of the relative risk of leukemia. After detection of the cluster, it could be shown that two nearby chemical plants had severly polluted soil, river and ground water with - among others - carcinogeneous chemicals, like trichloroethylene, 1,1,1-trichlorethane, tetrachloroethylene, and trichloromethane (chloroform). The concentrations of trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene at the two pump-stations for drinking water in Woburn were about 40 times above existing threshold values, which DPH had known since 1956.

The polluters were able to drag on the civil action - about occurrence, quality and quantity of pollution; evidence that the pollution caused leukemia - for five years. Then the law office that represented the destitute plaintiffs was financially ruined and had to give up. This was caused by non-understandable decisions of the responsible federal judge. One chemical plant was exonerated for lack of evidence. The other plant was, according to the jury, found guilty of pollution of groundwater. But an assessment of damage and compensation was turned down by the judge, who alleged that the jury had misunderstood scientific facts.

Public transport in Los Angeles

Public transport in the LA metropolitan area takes care of a very large and decentralized area with more than 9 million inhabitants. Transportation is provided by buses, which are oten in bad shape and overcrowded. Passengers often have to wait for a long time; overcrowded buses pass stops without pulling up. The bus system is used by poor, mostly colored people, who cannot afford a car. In the last years, the bus supply has fallen off despite a growing population, because the public transport company MTA does not invest enough into renovation of buses. Instead, MTA plans to build a light-rail system, which is supposed to cost 183 billion $ in the next 30 years.

The planned rail-system was to connect mainly "white" suburbs with each other and with business centers and malls. The connection of so-called "minority" - in LA, latinos are actually the majority - neighborhoods with business and industry was to be more wide-meshed and much later. A broad coalition of african-american and latino groups successfully filed suit against these plans. A court-order imposed a "special master" on the MTA, who in 1996 ordered the immediate purchase of 500 buses to end the transport-emergency. When MTA delayed the purchase, a federal judge ordered in 1999 the purchase of 248 buses within one month. At the same time MTA was given instruction to reduce drastically the planned rail-system in favor of the bus-system.

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