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Human Rights Petition Challenges U.S. Environmental Racism

(Beyond Pesticides, July 1, 2008) On behalf of the African American residents of Mossville, Louisiana, the non-profit, public interest law firm Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (AEHR) on June 23, 2008 filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) a detailed account of the human rights abuses suffered by residents as a consequence of governmental approvals that allow industrial facilities to dump millions of pounds of toxic chemicals every year.

The filing is an amended petition (Petition No. P-242-05), which includes a response to the U.S. Government’s arguments that attempt to defend its flawed environmental regulatory system that perpetuates environmental racism and denies basic human rights in Mossville and other similarly situated communities of color, according to AEHR.

The petition states:

“[The residents of] Mossville suffer from severe health problems, elevated levels of cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals, a devastated environment, and a deteriorated quality of life, all of which arise from governmental approvals of highly toxic industrial development in and around Mossville.

The United States government and its political subdivisions have authorized fourteen industrial facilities to manufacture, process, store, and discharge toxic and hazardous substances in close geographic proximity to Mossville residents. Three of these facilities – an oil refinery, a vinyl manufacturer, and a petrochemical facility – are located within the recognized historic boundaries of Mossville, and eleven other facilities – three vinyl manufacturers, one coal-fired power plant, and eight petrochemical facilities – are located within 0.8 kilometers (one-half mile) of the community. Each of the facilities in the Mossville area has received from governmental agencies the requisite permits to pollute the air, water, and land.

In recent years, industries have acknowledged that their facilities surrounding Mossville, on average annually, have polluted the air, water, and land with a combined total of approximately two million kilograms (over four million pounds) of toxic chemicals that are scientifically known to cause cancer and damage the immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, and reproductive systems…

Although the environmental and health agencies of the United States have documented the massive industrial pollution burdens on the Mossville community, as well as residents’ exposure to health-damaging levels of toxic chemicals, these agencies have failed to adequately address this environmental health crisis that denies Mossville residents their fundamental human rights to life, health, and privacy. Furthermore, although the United States government has acknowledged the pervasive pattern of discrimination that subjects Mossville, as well as other African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian American communities throughout the nation, to racially disproportionate toxic pollution burdens, the United States government has failed to protect the human right to freedom from racial discrimination.”
The petitioners believe the disproportionate permitting of polluting facilities in the African American community of Mossville reflects a nationwide pattern in the U.S. of environmental racism.

The federal government responded to the petition stating that “a clear showing of intentional discrimination based on factors such as race . . .” is required of Mossville petitioners. The petitioners countered stating the mandate of IACHR is the defense of inviolable human rights. In the case Mary and Carrie Dann v. United States, IACHR has determined that a violation occurs when “a government’s treatment of a group is distinct from that of another group without a reasonable justification or legitimate objective, and uses means that are disproportionate to the end sought.”

The petitioners are demanding that the federal government:

  • Provide medical services to Mossville residents suffering from diseases and health problems associated with environmental toxic exposures, including health monitoring services;
  • Offer appropriate relocation to consenting Mossville residents that allows them to live in healthier environs, away from toxic industrial facilities and contaminated sites;
  • Refrain from issuing environmental permits and other approvals that would allow any increase in pollution by existing industrial facilities located in close proximity to the Mossville community, and refrain from issuing any environmental permits and other approvals that would allow the introduction of any new industrial facility in the Mossville area; and,
  • Reform its existing environmental regulatory system to:

    • establish in all regulatory programs pollution limits that protect against the multiple, cumulative, and synergistic health impacts of numerous toxic and hazardous substances released into the air, water, and land by one or more industrial facilities;
    • require a safe distance between a residential population and a hazardous industrial facility so that the population is not located within the area where deaths or serious injury would result in the event that a toxic or flammable substance stored, processed, or generated by the facility would be released to the environment through explosion, fire, or spill; and
    • remedy past practices and prevent future actions that intentionally or inadvertently impose racially disproportionate pollution burdens.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is a division of the Organization of American States, founded in 1948 to investigate human rights complaints in the United States and 33 other countries in the Western Hemisphere. It is headquartered in Washington, DC.

Beyond Pesticides supports AEHR’s efforts and believes that the risk-benefit policy used by the U.S. EPA to allow chemical pesticides in our society is disproportionately failing communities of color. Pesticide exposure harms certain population groups more than others, a fact that is not accounted for in the registration and reregistration of pesticides. The risks inherent in the mathematical risk calculations fail to take into account the numerous circumstances and realities that make some populations more vulnerable to pesticides than others. Beyond Pesticides believes the current risk assessment system is not working, and should be replaced with a precautionary approach.

You may view AEHR’s petition at: http://www.ehumanrights.org/docs/Mossville_Amended_Petition_and_Observations_on_US_2008.pdf.


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