Why Health Professionals Have an Obligation to Protect Poor Communities from Coal Ash

By path2positive

If you look at environmental exposures, low income and minority communities receive more coal ash, a result of burning coal, which is often laden with toxic metals. Depending on the level of exposure, these metals (lead, mercury, chromium, etc.) can cause cancer and a slew of other problems. According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, one of Climate for Health's partner organizations, coal ash is the second largest source of industrial waste in the country, after mining. Clearly, this presents no small health problem. As Brian Bienkowski reports below in Scientific American, the EPA has a long way to go to reform the way it runs its Office of Civil Rights so that it enforces community health protections from environmental pollution. Why are our regulations set up to allow poorer communities to face more harm? Health professionals can get involved in this uphill battle to protect the most vulnerable populations by joining our diverse team of climate health leaders who advocate for healthy energy sources for these very reasons.

Toxic Coal Ash Hits Poor and Minority Communities Hardest

Scientific American

By Brian Bienkowski of Environmental Health News I January 14, 2016

Too often toxic coal ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power, ends up in poor, minority communities. U.S. civil rights officials are launching a deeper look at federal environmental policy to find out why. 

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold a hearing next week on environmental justice and the Environmental Protection Agency. The focus is the impact of coal ash, a toxic waste product of burning coal that often contains harmful metals such as lead, mercury, chromium and cadmium. 

Depending on exposure, such contaminants can cause cancer and harm most human organs, and kill or sicken wildlife. Coal ash is the second largest source of industrial waste in the country, after mining, according to a joint report from the nonprofit environment law organization, Earthjustice, and the Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The Commission intends “to shine a light on the civil rights implications of toxic coal ash, as well as other environmental conditions, on communities most in need of protection," said Commission Chairman Martin R. Castro in a statement. 

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