Why Environmental Justice?
A person’s ZIP code, race, or socioeconomic status should not determine whether or not they can live a healthy life.
Environmental justice is at the core of who we are for a very simple reason: communities of color and lower incomes are disproportionately affected by pollution. We aim to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean, healthy air. Birmingham was built in the late 1800s on the strength of the iron and steel industry. Nearly 150 years after its founding, The Magic City has a new identity as a growing hub for finance, education and healthcare. The Clean Air Act of 1970 and other regulations prevent and reduce pollution from manufacturing plants, chemical factories, and other major facilities. However, the fact of the matter is that these operations still pose risks to our health and threaten the vibrancy of our communities still today.
Right now, just a few minutes from downtown Birmingham, thousands of people live in communities boxed in by railroads and heavy industry. Smokestacks rain soot and chemicals down on the residents and their property every day. Those who suffer the most from dirty air tend to have the least amount of power to create and affect change. In other words, pollution is a matter of environmental and health justice. We work with residents, community leaders, and resource partners to find solutions to this ongoing problem. Our work in education, organizing and promoting better policies are critical to help disadvantaged communities reduce the burden of toxic air on their communities and families.
Birmingham’s Dirty Secret
In 2014, Gasp produced a short documentary called “Toxic City: Birmingham’s Dirty Secret,” which highlighted several individual stories from those neighborhoods. (Watch the trailer above.) In 2014, Gasp petitioned the EPA to look into potential contamination in the nearby Tarrant and Pinson Valley areas that border the 35th Avenue Site. That investigation was approved and is ongoing. We also have two pending Title VI complaints with the EPA against the Jefferson County Department of Health alleging the the air permits for Walter Coke and ABC Coke have a disparate impact on predominantly African-American communities.
Our work on ongoing air pollution in the Northern Birmingham communities involves neighborhoods that were subject to Birmingham’s 1926 unconstitutional racial zoning laws. These communities were unlawfully restricted to live among polluting industries due to unconstitutional, racially discriminatory zoning laws. Research also shows that zoned-for-blacks neighborhoods were located in or near industrial sites and are four times more likely than white neighborhoods to contain heavy industry.
Gasp is committed to helping the impacted residents and reducing the pollution. Our involvement includes:
✊ “Toxic City: Birmingham’s Dirty Secret”
✊ Reviewing air permits from polluters in environmental justice communities
✊ Supporting grassroots organizations in the community
✊ Serving as a resource partner to the North Birmingham Community Coalition
✊ Engaging leaders in the greater Birmingham area on the plight of impacted communities
✊ Enlisting the assistance of researchers to gather and analyze data
✊ Operating the AirWatch hotline so residents can report air pollution
Whether you can volunteer in the community, collect petition signatures, or write a letter to the editor, we need your help!