Chickens strut across the street from a Mossille chemical plant in 2001.
African-American residents of Mossville, a community just west of Lake Charles, have won a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on charges that the U.S. government has violated their rights to privacy and racial equality in not forcing local chemical plants to stop polluting.
It’s the first time the international organization has agreed to hear complaints of environmental racism against the United States by its on citizens, said a spokeswoman for the law firm that filed the complaint.
Mossville is adjacent to 14 chemical plants and refineries that release millions of pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, land and water each year, according to federal and state records.
Its residents have filed a variety of lawsuits and complaints against the plants and the Environmental Protection Agency in attempts to recover damages and reduce pollution, which includes cancer-causing dioxin and vinyl chloride. Tests by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registery in 2007 found chemicals in residents’ body fat that were the same as chemicals emitted by some of the nearby industries.
Several of the companies and their predecessors have been involved in releases of chemicals that have eaten the paint off cars, killed bushes and trees in people’s front yards, and polluted adjacent waterways.
“We believe that environmental protection should not be based on the color of our skin,” said Dorothy Felix, a petitioner in the case and a vice president of Mossville Environmental Action Now. “Our government can and must do better to protect our human rights.”
The petition was filed with the human rights arm of the Organization of American States by New Orleans-based attorneys with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights.
“Mossville is one of several communities of color across the United States disproportionately burdened with toxic pollution as a result of governmental decisions that are tipped in favor of polluters,” said Monique Harden, co-director of the nonprofit legal group.
“The good news is that a judicial review by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can open the door to ending the pattern of environmental racism by introducing a human rights framework for environmental protection,” she said.
The decision to hear the case starts a three-month process in which the international commission will hear aguments from both sides on whether the privacy or racial equality complaints should be confirmed.
In its initial reply to the Mossville complaint, attorneys for the U.S. said the commission, in agreeing to hear the case, was following rules that the United States and other member states had not adopted.
Instead, the commission should follow the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. In that document, the reply said, “there is no right to a healthy environment either directly or as a component of the rights to life, health, privacy and inviolability of the home, or equal protection and freedom from discrimination, express or implied, under the American Declaration.”
The American Declaration also doesn’t establish enforceable mandates to establish emission limits for all toxic chemicals released by all industrial facilities, to protect against the impacts of toxic pollution from existing or proposed facilities, or to reduce excessive air pollution occuring in small areas within larger air quality control regions, the government argued.
The American Declaration also includes no enforceable mandate to prevent such facilities from being located in minority population communities “absent a clear showing of intentional discrimination” based on race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, the response said.
article by Mark Schleifstein via nola.com