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Abstract

Nontraditional environmentalists are struggling to protect and preserve communities, both urban and rural, that have become threatened by constant, multiple exposures to toxic air, contaminated water, and pesticide-ridden and chemical-laden soils. Numerous reports, including a 1992 study by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, have suggested that people of color and low income communities have been, for decades, the unwilling recipients of numerous hazardous waste sites, incinerators, chemical factories, and sewage treatment plants. Historically, these communities often lacked the essential resources necessary to oppose sitings of potentially hazardous facilities: money, organization, and political voice. Land in these communities is usually inexpensive and, therefore, is a logical, affordable target of local land-use planners and zoners seeking sites for environmentally hazardous projects. There is little or no political resistance to such sitings since most of these communities are perceived as powerless. In fact, the siting of new facilities, even hazardous industries, brings the promise of economic prosperity and tax revenues, forcing these communities, which often have high unemployment, to choose between economic security and environmental degradation. Continuous exposure to toxic pollutants from multiple sources has been associated with significant increases in the rates of cancer, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other respiratory diseases, reproductive and birth defects, immunological problems, and neurological disorders. More systemic studies are just now being designed to look at the correlation between etiology, latency effects, casual and multiple exposures, and health effects.

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