Groups Accuse Miami of Environmental Racism After Irma

As the costliest Atlantic hurricane season of all time comes to an end, the clean-up process is hitting some harder than others.

In Florida, which was hit by Hurricane Irma in September, many residents have accused their local representatives of environmental racism for predominantly using poor and minority neighborhoods as trash sites for the more than 3 million cubic yards of hurricane debris, WLRN is reporting.

Different from classic NIMBY-ism, environmental racism is a critique of the decades-long practice of placing toxic environmental sites—coal plants, stack houses, landfills—near disenfranchised and impoverished communities at a disparate than their affluent counterparts.

RTS1DD21 A man rides a bike past a huge pile of refuse that has been collected following Hurricane Irma in Marathon, Florida, U.S. September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The Sunshine State has a track record of putting its poor and minority residents at risk; most recently, a group of Miami residents filed suit against the city for failing to warn them about the toxicity generated by a trash incinerator that stood next to a segregated black-only school since 1925. According to an investigation by the Miami New Times, many of the areas black residents have since developed a lie of health issues, including respiratory problems and pancreatic cancer. When the school desegregated in 1966, white parents complained of the incinerator and successfully had it demolished by 1974.

The county posits that it is not purposefully dumping the burden on struggling neighborhoods after Irma. In an email to WLRN, Gayle Love, spokeswoman for the Department of Waste Management, said that the county “established [six] sites that are strategically located and help to maximize the productivity and efficiency of contracted debris haulers.”  Love also said that the county identified these sites well before the storm and have been okayed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management. She also added that the sites will be operational well into 2018.

Still, residents claim the county placed the burden on communities of color. Concerns over toxic run-off, animal infestation, and foul stench have all been reported.

Marginalized communities along the Gulf bore the brunt of the destruction brought on by both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. In Houston, thousands of poor and working-class residents were affected by the chemical spillage from the areas dozens of oil refineries, chemical plants, and coal-fired power plants during Harvey.

But these issues are anything but new to Houston’s poorest communities, says Byran Parras, treasurer of the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service, in an interview with The Independent.

“Living just two miles from one of the largest collections of chemical plants and refineries, I’ve seen the black smoke burning off these deadly and dangerous plants, I’ve smelled the oil and chemicals and I know the fear that strikes so many of our communities on a daily basis,” he said.

“The environmental crimes against my community and thousands like it have been happening for decades and superstorms like Harvey only heighten the threat…As we begin to think about rebuilding, we must ensure the recovery is a just and equitable one that ensures communities are not displaced or threatened by these toxic sites ever again.”

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