Flint, Porter Ranch and Environmental Racism

I was recently reading up on the Flint, Michigan water crisis and stumbled upon the concept of “environmental racism.” Since this was an unfamiliar term to me, I briefly researched more to get the scoop. As I found out,  it's a very real, very prevalent issue. The New York Times puts it like this: "[environmental racism] is the disproportionate exposure of blacks to polluted air, water and soil."  It even quotes a Flint city representative, who claims that race is "the single greatest determinant of what happened in Flint." Since the Michigan city, which is just sixty-six miles northwest of Detroit, has a population that is predominantly black, this disturbingly comes to no surprise.

Let's compare the Flint crisis to Porter Ranch, California-- the neighborhood just outside Los Angeles that recently experienced a major gas leak. A quick Google search told me that, demographically, Porter Ranch is very different than Flint. The population is largely white at about sixty percent, followed by a considerable Asian population at twenty-six percent.  Even more pressingly, a recent census states that the average income of Porter Ranch is $121,428. Needless to say, Porter Ranch is affluent.

I think anyone even half-following the news would agree that it seems the response to the leak was rather quick once it was discovered by the Southern California Gas Company back in October. What you might not know is that state officials in Michigan and regional EPA officials originally attempted to deny responsibility and then even cover up the water contamination that was endangering Flint's citizens' health, seemingly dragging their feet to minimize the extent of the damage. In comparison, California officials and public utility responded urgently and efficiently to the gas leak.

California's crisis was very serious: gas is a harmful substance that caused Porter Ranch citizens to get sick. However, the manner in which Flint's crisis has been handled appears to have had less of an urgency than that of Porter Ranch's. 

Environmental racism certainly played a role in the response to the water crisis in Flint. On top of that, however, I also think that examining two similar disasters that happened around the same time raises awareness about a different issue that desperately needs to be addressed: an infrastructure industry that gets away with scanty regulation that seems willing to cut costs at the risk of people’s health. 

Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4

Sources: 1, 2