Protestors block the delivery of toxic PCB waste to a landfill in Afton, North Carolina, 1982. Photo by Ricky Stilley via NRDC.

The Environmental Justice Movement


With its roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the nationwide movement for environmental justice—led by African-American, Latino, and Indigenous people and communities—is fighting to ensure that all families, no matter their race or how much money they make, have a safe and healthy place to live, work and play.

At the Strategy Center, the fight for environmental justice is at the heart of our work.

In Maine, the scourge of arsenic-contaminated well water disproportionately affects lower-income and rural families. By fighting to ensure that all families have safe water to drink, we’re working for a fairer and more just Maine.​ Through our Sustainable Economy program, we're also working to revitalize and strengthen rural communities across the state by encouraging investment in good green jobs for all.

Nationally, studies show that lower-income black and Latino people tend to have higher levels of toxic phthalates in their bodies than wealthier white people. Our market campaign calls on leading food manufacturers to keep toxic phthalates out of food—because we need to create a more just nation where all families, no matter their race or income level, have access to safe, toxic-free food for their kids to eat.

This Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, we’re reminded of the ways in which Dr. King’s work and vision in the civil rights movement sparked the national movement for environmental justice. This article from our friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) dives into the very beginnings of the environmental justice movement, and shows the work still to be done to ensure that all families, no matter their race or how much money they make, have a safe place to live, work, and play.


The Environmental Justice Movement

By Renee Skelton & Vernice Miller, NDRC

Championed primarily by African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders and Native Americans, the environmental justice movement addresses a statistical fact: people who live, work and play in America's most polluted environments are commonly people of color and the poor. Environmental justice advocates have shown that this is no accident. Communities of color, which are often poor, are routinely targeted to host facilities that have negative environmental impacts -- say, a landfill, dirty industrial plant or truck depot. The statistics provide clear evidence of what the movement rightly calls "environmental racism." Communities of color have been battling this injustice for decades.

A Movement Sparks

Poor, rural and overwhelmingly black, Warren County, North Carolina, might seem an unlikely spot for the birth of a political movement. But when the state government decided that the county would make a perfect home for 6,000 truckloads of soil laced with toxic PCBs, the county became the focus of national attention.

The dump trucks first rolled into Warren County in mid-September, 1982, headed for a newly constructed hazardous waste landfill in the small community of Afton. But many frustrated residents and their allies, furious that state officials had dismissed concerns over PCBs leaching into drinking water supplies, met the trucks. And they stopped them, lying down on roads leading into the landfill. Six weeks of marches and nonviolent street protests followed, and more than 500 people were arrested -- the first arrests in U.S. history over the siting of a landfill.

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