22 January 2011

Trash Talk: Influence of Affluence on Environmental Impacts

I did a search on the list of solid waste facilities in the State of Maryland.  Most Counties had one to four municipal solid waste; rubble/construction and demolition; or industrial landfills and various incinerator and processing facilities.  Baltimore, Calvert and Prince Georges County have 7 each and Baltimore City has 11 permitted facilities.  Please see: http://www.mde.maryland.gov/programs/Land/SolidWaste/PermittedFacilities/Documents/www.mde.state.md.us/assets/document/PERMITTED_SW_ACCEPTANCE_FACILITIES.pdf
If you are familiar with population trends in the State, you can make your own assumptions about that list.   My search was further narrowed down to Prince Georges County, which has about a 65% black population with a median household income of about $71K.   In looking at the addresses for the disposal sites, most are in Upper Marlboro and the others are in Capital Heights, Fairmont Heights and Hyattsville.  None of these are located in the most affluent areas of those jurisdictions or the County as a whole; no assumptions necessary.   
Landfills cause environmental damage by leaking pollutants into groundwater and waterways and emitting hazardous air.  There have been many studies on the connection between these facilities and human health.  Impacts may include stunted growth; low birth weight; birth defects; organ function abnormalities; skin irritations; neurologic issues; and cancers.   
The private and government decision makers ensure that these facilities are not in their own back yards and they also follow the path of least resistance when planning site locations.  In general, the communities that do not have influence in local development processes are the ones that get stuck with the undesirable outcomes.  Consequently, those populations suffer from inferior health simply based upon the least wealth and the least political activity.
People need to step up and defend themselves, but the people do not have the funds to do so.    The least among us need help.   The non-profit environmental sector makes a difference, but the focus on bigger issues (to them) drives dollars beyond financially disadvantaged communities.  Of course, I do not have all the answers, but I do have a few suggestions.
·         Business  funded buyouts of properties in the vicinity of existing or proposed facilities, not just those directly impacted by the footprint of facilities
·         Middle and upper class support to push proposed facilities out to less populated areas
·         Business/government liaison for communities to provide outreach and education to help translate industry and science into meaningful terms to ensure understanding of potential impacts and to help communities develop a response to proposals
·         Business/government pollution mitigation including providing bottled water and/or whole-house  water filter systems; contaminated soil removal and replacement; home retrofits to reduce impacts from odors and noise;  and regular health check-ups and natural preventive remedies
·         Extensive tree planting around facilities
As our population increases and produces more waste, it will be necessary to construct new facilities.  These facilities may come to a place near you because there may be no other suitable location or the moneyed interests will guarantee they will not come near them in Potomac, Bethesda, Clarksville, Davidsonville, Cape St. Clair, Rockville or any other wealthy community in the State.  So, what are you going to do about it?    

Thanks: publicdomainpictures.net

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