Environmental Injustice, Health Risks, and Our Commitment to Community Well-Being

What is environmental justice and why should we care?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental justice is “the fair treatment
and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, and income”
in all environmental decisions and policies. Unfortunately, the world we live in today is riddled
with this problem and most low-income communities and communities of color experience what
we call environmental racism. A 2018 study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
used emission particles to compare the environmental burden of pollution across different
communities in the U.S. The research found that the burden was 35% higher for people living in
poverty in general and 28% higher for People of Color. Black people, specifically, had a burden
level 54% greater than that of the overall population. This is because it is easier and cheaper for
policies and practices to place industrial facilities in communities where there are fewer
resources to fight back with. Thus, it is a very real problem and a good amount of independent
scientific research has confirmed that poorer communities and people of color disproportionately
carry the burden of environmental pollution.

The proximity of Communities of Color to hazardous environments is a systemic issue that
affects civil rights. To an extent, wealth also contributes to exposure to pollutants, with low
income families of any ethnicity at greater risk than higher income families. However, research
suggests that the association between environmental hazards and race is stronger than that
between environmental hazards and wealth. Many factors threaten the well-being of minority
communities, such as discriminatory policing and housing availability, but environmental
discrimination is actually a main cause of mortality for these residents. “Air pollution and
extreme heat are killing inner-city residents at a higher rate than almost all other causes,”
Scientific American reported. “And as average temperatures continue to rise—contributing to
what scientists call the ‘urban heat island effect’—death and illness from the effects of climate
change are expected to rise further.”

Now you may be wondering why you’re having to read about this on a life insurance company’s
website. We at Octans take our environmental responsibility seriously, we are committed to
raising awareness on this issue while serving communities that are most affected by
environmental injustice since they have a lower life expectancy. Hence, they are more likely to pass away due to some unexpected illness caused by environmental pollution leaving their
family in financial ruin with no way to keep a roof over their head or maintain their standard of
life. Life insurance can change the fate of your family, we are here to help you protect your
family and support them financially on their worst days. Read on to find out how environmental
injustices are perpetuated and the very serious health risk it poses.

How is environmental justice a racial issue?

The phrase environmental racism was coined by civil rights leader Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.
He defined it as the intentional siting of polluting and waste facilities in communities primarily
populated by African Americans, Latinos, Indigenous People, Asian Americans and Pacific
Islanders, migrant farmworkers, and low-income workers.
Study after study has since shown that those communities are disproportionately exposed to
fumes, toxic dust, ash, soot, and other pollutants from such hazardous facilities located in their
midst. As a result, they face increased risks of health problems like cancer and respiratory issues.

Many communities of color still suffer from the legacies of segregation and redlining, which
were shaped and enforced through land use policies and local zoning codes. These racist
practices discouraged investment in these areas, which eroded asset values and the tax base,
leading to crumbling housing and public infrastructure. According to a report by the Tishman
Environment and Design Center, polluting industries sought to locate their facilities where the
value of land was low, and cities responded by zoning these already-struggling communities for
industrial use. Their rights to healthy, thriving spaces were further squandered by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has a well-documented history of favoring
white communities.

Why did these circumstances arise and how is it perpetuated by existing regulations?

The problem of environmental injustice exists largely because of policies and practices that have
historically, and to this day, favored the health, well-being, and consumer choices of white communities over those of non-white, low-income communities. Here is an example- General
Iron is a metal-shredding business that operated in Chicago’s predominantly white, wealthy
Lincoln Park neighborhood. In 2018, e-mails showed that city officials from then mayor Rahm
Emanuel’s administration pushed the business to move out of this neighborhood after community
members complained and to make way for a multibillion-dollar private real estate development.
The city then struck a deal to relocate the polluting operation to Chicago’s predominantly Latino,
low-income, and working-class Southeast Side neighborhood. It’s a form of systemic oppression.
While no one wants hazardous waste in their backyard, primarily white, middle- to higher-
income communities have always been more successful at preventing it. Conversely, poor
communities of color are often perceived as passive and don’t have the clout or resources to
challenge the dumping of poison where they live.

As is typical for targeted communities, Chicago’s Southeast Side was largely left out of the
decision to move the General Iron facility into its neighborhood. So in the fall of 2020, the
community fought back by filing a civil rights complaint against the city with the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It was initiated by community leaders,
including Peggy Salazar of the Southeast Environmental Task Force (with her successors Olga
Bautista and Gina Ramirez) as well as Cheryl Johnson of People for Community Recovery, and
supported by partners like NRDC. There was also a hunger strike the following year by other
local activists like Oscar Sanchez of the Southeast Youth Alliance and Breanna Bertacchi, a
member of United Neighbors of the 10th Ward.

It is cheaper for a corporation to pollute communities of color than privileged communities

“Research has shown that if you have a corporation who has violated environmental laws, the
corporation is going to be fined. The fines tend to be lower in communities of color, especially
Black communities, and poor communities,” Dorceta Taylor, professor at the Yale School of the
Environment and author of Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and
Residential Mobility, tells Teen Vogue. “Corporations, they’re not idiots—they can see this
difference.” Lower fines lead to more pollution, which often decreases the land value of existing
homes near a factory or landfill. As a result, more industry moves into the area, creating a vicious cycle. Left with little opportunity for mobility and sparse political clout, the remaining
residents are subjected to continually worsening living conditions. “One factor that might be
playing into this is whether or not the communities are able to organize and mobilize to push for
the cleanup that they should be getting,” Taylor says, “or even know.

Environmental racism plays out in many ways and has several cumulative impacts. These
include mental and physical health issues, economic inequality, the desecration of cultural
spaces, and disproportionate levels of pollution. Given its systemic nature, we could not begin to
cover every instance, but here are some examples:

Flint and Benton Harbor, Michigan: In 2014, a water system contaminated by lead turned into
a crisis for the city of Flint. Four years later, neighboring Benton Harbor experienced the same
thing. Both communities, which are predominantly Black and low-income, already suffered from
a history of state and local government mismanagement. A subsequent failed response to this
crisis resulted in years of lead leaching through pipes into drinking water. Lead exposure is
linked to health consequences from heart and kidney disease in adults to impaired brain
development in children.

Louisiana’s Cancer Alley: A 2021 report highlights concerns about industrializing the
stretch of land between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, dubbed “Cancer Alley,” in the
southern state of Louisiana.
Over the last several decades, this 85-mile stretch between Baton
Rouge and New Orleans became the de facto sacrifice zone for mile after mile of gas and oil
operations. This has resulted in an alarming number of health risks for the majority Black and
low-income communities. In fact, 7 of the 10 census tracts with the country’s highest cancer risk
levels from air pollution are found here.

Arsenic contamination in San Joaquin Valley: Arsenic is a chemical element that occurs
naturally in groundwater but is exacerbated by agricultural activities. In humans, exposure to
arsenic can cause cancer in the: skin, lung, kidneys, bladder. In San Joaquin Valley, CA,
industrial uses — such as wood treatment processes and prevalence in pesticides — add to the
natural concentration of arsenic. Irrigation and drainage activities then cause the arsenic to spread. It collects in shallower levels of groundwater. However, in the San Joaquin Valley, the
main source of drinking water for around 1 million residents is groundwater, with the worst
exposure for low income communities and Communities of Color. A 2012 study found that
arsenic contamination in San Joaquin Valley was lower in areas of higher homeownership and
that People of Color had disproportionately higher exposure to harmful arsenic level.

How is any of this relevant to life insurance?

We are committed to serving communities who bear this disproportionate burden by raising
awareness on this issue. First and foremost, we at Octans Life Insurance family recognize and
acknowledge this as a systemic issue. Like all systemic issues it is extremely difficult to
overcome and it takes coordinated effort from all sides to solve issues such as this. We are here
to do our part and we see a way to fight this with life insurance.

Environmental injustice is closely related to generational poverty (when poverty has become a familiar pattern for at least two generations, although it typically affects multiple generations). Environmental inequalities help solidify generational poverty making it harder to break the vicious cycle of poverty. People living in areas where the health risks are high as a result of pollution are likely to pass away earlier, leaving their families and children in peril, especially more so if they are the primary breadwinner of the family. They probably keep living in that area in the first place because they cannot afford to move away, in fact chances are they live in such areas because their parents, grandparents and great grandparents have been living in similar areas. They have a lower level of education and lower opportunities because their parents (and their parents and so on) probably passed away leaving them with no financial support. They lived from hand to mouth and it is very possible they had no savings set aside for your future. Or maybe they passed away before they could amass that kind of money since life expectancy in these areas is way lower due to exposure to harmful pollutants- in air, water and ground, chances of untimely death is significantly high.


But imagine you received a substantial sum of money after your parents have passed away, you will have
the opportunity to move away, continue your education, afford better healthcare, and live a financially
better life than your parents did. In turn, your children won’t have to live in areas where they are more
likely to get cancer. They will be able to go to better schools and have a better life. And you will be able
to pass on this opportunity and wealth to your next generation, solely because you were the beneficiary of your parents’ life insurance money (which is, by the way, TAX FREE!).

So if you’re thinking you cannot afford life insurance, you probably NEED IT THE MOST. It means
you’re living hand to mouth, don’t have enough money set aside and you depend on your everyday job to pay bills. Chances are you also live in areas where these environmental inequalities are high since you
would just move away to a better neighborhood if you could afford to. Living in such an area affects your
health even if you don’t notice it. Now, if you were to suddenly get news you have cancer or any other
serious illness despite you being young, you suddenly realize you are no longer able to work and your
family essentially is BROKE without you.

Your children will have to give up school, take up work early or even worse just take up a career in crime instead. The only way to avoid it is life insurance. Get a quote today and if you’re healthy and young, chances are you will only pay about 20 dollars to keep a policy worth $ 200,000 (or however much fixed if needed). Think about it, you easily spend $20 on things you don’t need, use it on something that actually does matter. It is a negligible amount you pay to ensure your family’s future and wellbeing.

Here are all the sources we got information from if you want are interested learning more on this issue:
https://www.nrdc.org/stories/what-environmental-racism
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/environmental-racism#background
https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2017.304297
https://www.yesmagazine.org/environment/2021/04/22/environmental-racism-examples
https://www.compassion.com/poverty/generational-poverty.htm
https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/Penn-sociology-research-historical-racism-modern-poverty-racial-inequality
https://usafacts.org/articles/which-cities-have-health-issues-with-their-drinking-water/
https://www.epa.gov/ejscreen/learn-use-ejscreen

Additional info:

Did you know that in 2021, there were 153,501 total water quality violations across all US states and
territories. About 7.4% of them were health-based violations. Roughly one-fifth of reported health-based
violations were identified as acute violations, meaning they had the potential to produce immediate
illness. The high proportion of monitoring, reporting, and public notification violations indicates that tens
of thousands of public water systems fail to test and report potential health violations to the EPA and the
public, meaning that potential health-based violations may be underestimated.

Check out where your state ranks in terms of following safe drinking water regulations:

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