“Sacrifice Zones”: The Dirty Secret of How the EPA Turns a Blind Eye to Pollution in Black Communities

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is under legal fire from citizen groups who say the agency is basically serving up Black neighborhoods as “sacrifice zones.” Yep, you heard it right. We’re talking about life-or-death issues, people, and it’s time to sound the alarm!

Environmental justice warriors from Louisiana, West Virginia, and Texas have filed a lawsuit against the EPA. Their claim? The agency has failed to protect Black communities from killer air pollution. Let’s break it down: companies are spewing cancer-causing chemicals into the air, and guess where their factories are mostly located? If you guessed majority-Black and low-income communities, ding, ding, ding! You’re correct.

One example is West Virginia’s “Chemical Valley,” located near Charleston, which hosts several plants that produce polyether polyols—a fancy name for chemicals that can ruin your health. These plants emit dangerous stuff like ethylene oxide, a carcinogen you definitely don’t want to inhale. The risk of cancer for residents of Institute, a town within this chemical haven, is 36 times higher than what the EPA itself considers “acceptable.” Thirty. Six. Times.

Pam Nixon, who has been a warrior for clean air in her West Virginia community, makes it plain: “There is no justice yet until all communities are treated the same.” Nixon knows the struggle firsthand. She got sick way back in 1985 due to a chemical leak from a plant in her neighborhood.

But this isn’t just an isolated case. A ProPublica analysis found that across the U.S., the cancer risk from industrial air pollution is more than double in majority-Black communities compared to majority-white ones. So, this is systemic, folks and the environmental racism stinks worse than a garbage dump.

The origins of this inequality can be traced back to historical injustices like redlining, where white zoning boards decided that Black communities would be the perfect place to build these toxic plants. Most of these communities don’t have the resources or political pull to fight back, making them easy targets for exploitation.

We’ve even got academics weighing in, like Ana Baptista, an environmental policy professor, who told ProPublica that industries rely on these “sacrifice zones.” She states, “We sacrifice these low-income, African American, Indigenous communities for the economic benefit of the region or state or country.”

Well, it’s about time we put a stop to this. As Matthew Tejada, the EPA’s director of environmental justice, candidly admits, “These places were created. And it is the responsibility of everyone, including the government—chiefly the government—to do something about it.”

Amen to that. Environmental justice isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a fundamental human right. So let’s keep our eyes on this lawsuit and hold the powers that be accountable for once. Because everyone, regardless of their zip code or the color of their skin, deserves to breathe clean air.