By Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer-

( – Chicago, Illinois has large numbers of old steel mills, abandoned factories, sewage treatment plants and more landfills per square mile than any city in the United States, according to environmental injustice activists. These cause some of the highest levels of toxicity to the environment, they charge.

These various facilities have left the highest levels of toxic chromium and cadmium sulfates, which can trigger asthma attacks.  

“This is the new form of genocide against Black and Brown people,” argues Cheryl Johnson, founder of the organization People for Community Recovery, affiliated with the Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago.


Turning her attention to what Congress did with the FY2015 budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ms. Johnson said the EPA needs to be fully funded, not losing money in its budget,

According to the Center for Effective Government, the fiscal year 2015 budget would reduce the agency’s funding for the fifth straight year. “The $60 million cut in EPA’s budget, which builds on previous reductions, will bring the agency’s staffing to its lowest level since 1989,” said Ronald White, director of Regulatory Policy at the Center.

Peggy Shepard, executive director at the New York city-based WE ACT for Environmental Justice explained to The Final Call what impact the EPA cuts would have on activist organizations.

“In the past, this has meant cuts to the enforcement of technical assistance to community organizations, as well as reductions in grants for groups that focus their work in neighborhoods that need the most support,” she said. These cuts have always hit people of color the hardest, added Ms. Shepard.

Mr. White told The Final Call that anti-regulatory forces in Congress have made clear their intent to block the EPA’s work. He said that the agency’s work in monitoring air pollution and water pollution are important to communities of color. “For the time being environmental justice advocacy groups will still have some influence at EPA,” Mr. White said.

Ms. Johnson seems less optimistic, given what she sees as a general lack of knowledge in Black and Brown communities on how the EPA functions. “In Chicago we need to create our own environmental injustice think tank,” insists Ms. Johnson. According to activists, Southeast Chicago has the highest incidence of respiratory illnesses such as asthma and cancer.

“I just received a call from a man who said there has been three generations of cancer victims in his family, and he wants to know why this is happening,” she said. It is a very serious issue, but Black and Brown communities don’t take the issue to heart to make Congress react to our needs, added Ms. Johnson.

The irony of Ms. Johnson’s statement is that a large number of Americans support public health and environmental protections, according to a recent poll conducted by the American Lung Association. The Lung Association’s December 2014 national survey found that Americans believe that the EPA should be doing more, not less, to reduce problems such as air pollution. The poll also revealed that those surveyed by a three-to-one margin want EPA scientists, not Congress to establish the nation’s air pollution standards.    

“We in Black and Brown communities are now forced to be the investigators for our communities,” said Michele Roberts, community coordinator for the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Justice and Health Alliance. “In fact we are hosting calls across the country to instruct our communities how to do better and deeper documentation and reporting on their issues,” she added.