Environmental justice: This is the reality

A woman spends time with her son at Weber Square Park, within Census Tract 000300, the most environmentally vulnerable neighborhood in San Joaquin County. Photo by Calixtro Romias.

A caller told me, politely, that he didn’t like last week’s story about neighborhoods that are particularly vulnerable to pollution.

He questioned my use of the term “environmental justice.”

“What exactly does that mean?” he said. “It’s vague. I don’t like how it sounds.”

And he didn’t like my mention of the fact that Brookside is one of the least vulnerable neighborhoods in the county. Said something about class warfare.

It’s not the first time I’ve gotten a call like this, but for the life of me I cannot understand what is so controversial about environmental justice. It’s simply the concept that it is unfair for some people to face greater environmental risk than others. It’s the idea that, to the extent possible, the risks we face should not disproportionately harm already disadvantaged people.

Census Tract 000300, the most at-risk tract in San Joaquin County, ranks in the 95th percentile in California when it comes to the actual amount of pollution. (You can look up this tract, or any other in California, by clicking here).

Among the worst categories for 000300: Toxic cleanup sites (99th percentile in California), groundwater contamination (98th percentile), impaired water bodies (95th percentile).

But what really gives the tract a bad score are its demographics. Lots of older folks and young kids (89th percentile); sky-high asthma rate (99th percentile); low birth weights (98th percentile); low educational attainment (82nd percentile); low English speaking skills (87th percentile); high poverty (95th percentile) and high unemployment (97th percentile).

Put it all together and you’ve got one of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the state, according to this particular analysis.

Brookside’s score for the actual amount of pollution is significantly better, though not great (61st percentile).

But what really reduces the vulnerability in Brookside are its demographics. Fewer older folks and children (37th percentile); lower asthma rate (41st percentile); fewer low birth weights, though still high (80th percentile); much higher educational attainment (23rd percentile); more English speakers (37th percentile); way-low poverty (10th percentile) and way-low unemployment (14th percentile).

I’m not saying people in Brookside should feel guilty. I’m not reporting this to make them feel badly.

But these are the numbers. These are the facts. I didn’t make this stuff up.

And we are one community.

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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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