Reflection on “Dumping in Dixie”

Post by: Cristin Anthony

 

In class on Wednesday, we spent time reviewing an excerpt from “Dumping in Dixie” by Robert Bullard. It caused me to wonder about the toxic releases in my hometown versus the toxic releases here in Greenville. I looked online at the National Library of Medicine, which provides information about all of the toxic releases in the United States. This information began to be provided by the government in 1986 as part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act. In 1990, they expanded the inventory as part of the Pollution Prevention Act. (Read about it more here http://toxmap.nlm.nih.gov/toxmap/faq/2009/08/what-is-the-toxics-release-inventory-tri.html)
What I found while I was doing my research was actually kind of surprising. In my hometown of Taneytown, Maryland, residents are being exposed to toxins from 7 different facilities. Here in Greenville, South Carolina, residents are exposed to toxins from one facility. (You can look up your own town here: http://toxmap.nlm.nih.gov/toxmap/main/index.jsp)
When I looked for more data about the facilities that were producing the chemicals, I found that, in Greenville, the one facility that was on the register actually releases a very small amount of chemicals- the TRI (toxic release inventory) measures these amounts in pounds, and recorded that this facility produces less that one pound of each chemical. The chemicals listed were decabromodiphenyl oxide (commonly used as a flame retardant), cyanide, antimony compounds, and vinyl acetate. None of these chemicals have any terminal or long-lasting health risks associated with exposure. Additionally, they are being produced in Greenville in an amount that, according to the National Institute of Health, is not enough to harm a human.
In Taneytown, however, the facilities that release chemicals are estimated to be releasing 19 units of manganese, 26 units of nickel, 26 units of chromium (a known carcinogen), 46 units of lead, 119 units of Methanol, and 294 units of mercury, as well as many more at very low volumes. All of these chemicals have health risks from too much exposure through air or water. Some of the health problems associated with these chemicals include attacks on the nervous system, asthma, anemia, infecundity (mainly in men), miscarriages, kidney failure, ulcers, lung cancer, and stomach tumors. Granted, all of these problems would require a great deal of exposure to the chemicals, but in the amounts that Taneytown is being exposed to, there is still risk of allergic reactions, asthma attacks, shortness of breath, and slowed movement.
As we were discussing in class and as Buller points out in this excerpt, the places with more toxic waste and pollution tend to be black communities. I looked on the United States Census page (http://www.census.gov/) for the statistics regarding the black population at home so I could compare it to the one in Greenville. In Greenville, the population is 64% White, 30% Black, and 6% other. In Taneytown, the population is 91.3% White, 4.5% black, and 4.2% other. Granted, a trend is not always going to be accurate, but it was surprising to see such a large difference between the two towns both on the TRI and in Demographic data, and have them be the opposite of what I was expecting.
So why did the data disagree? As we have been talking about all semester, there are an infinite number of many possible factors for every trend and statistic. Reading the article again, I found that Buller says “an abundance of documentation shows blacks, lower-income groups, and working-class persons are subject to a disproportionately large amount of pollution.” It isn’t all about race. Is it possible that it isn’t about race at all? I also looked up median income in both cities. In Taneytown, the median household income is $65,869. In Greenville, the median household income is $40,291. Again, the statistics were not in line with the trend we were talking about in class. Looking at the data tables again, I saw that while Greenville has 60,379 residents, Taneytown has 6,736.
In Taneytown, there are less people to protest the moving in of corporations and factories. In Taneytown, harmful chemicals in the air and water will affect fewer people. While it may not be heavily populated with black persons and has a higher median income than other cities, It simply does not have the resources as a community of so few people to keep industries from coming in and bringing their chemicals.
I guess that this is just a very long-winded way of saying that no variable should be overlooked, but I think that it also proves that you can’t always trust a trend. Yes, trends are ways to look at data and see what is common or normal, but every trend has an exception…. and I think I just found one.

2 thoughts on “Reflection on “Dumping in Dixie”

  1. Interesting! We’re going to talk about “Dumping in Dixie” tomorrow, and I’ll share these links! I personally come from Appleton Wisconsin, which is on the Fox River. The Fox River had a terrible problem with PCBs being dumped into it, and the sediment had to be dredged to remove the PCBs from the river. Those PCBs are still somewhere, though. The pollution never goes away. There’s also a factory in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, which is our neighbor. People say it “smells like Kaukauna” when the wind blows toward Appleton. I couldn’t imagine living there, and I’m pretty sure it’s just a sausage plant. What it must be like to have a chemical plant or dump in your community! I checked the area near my house, and the closest contaminant is lead. My house does have a well for drinking water, so we are concerned about contaminants, but have considered fertilizers and natural things like arsenic, but it is good that resources like this map exist.

  2. Wow! This is really interesting in that it goes against all the economic and societal trends we identified as factors that direct chemical dumping. Admittedly, I was cynical of Bullard’s advocation of instrumental and expressive measures of protesting. Yet, these statistics suggest, as you mentioned, that a large enough population can be mobilized and can have an effect. This seems very encouraging, especially since it suggests that numbers, not necessarily money, are powerful. Thus, there seems to be hope for the impoverished areas that are so often the victims of chemical dumping.

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