Poisoned tap water in Flint, Michigan, and a cancerous chemical spill in Northeast Wichita – what do they have in common?
If you ask the few residents of Wichita’s Northeast community who have recently become aware of a cancerous chemical spill that’s contaminated the groundwater and soul in their community – they’d say, “a lot.”
Those in the know are calling it Environmental Racism.
What is Environmental Racism?
The term was coined by civil rights leader Benjamin Chavis in 1982. While environmental racism may surface in many ways, at its core, it is a form of systemic racism where communities of color are disproportionately burdened with health hazards through policies and practices that force them to live in proximity to toxic environments.
In Northeast Wichita, a predominantly Black community, a cancerous chemical at toxic levels was discovered in the soil and groundwater in 1994 and members of the community weren’t notified until this year.
“No way, absolutely no way would residents have been blindly left in the dark about the existence of a toxic spill for nearly 20 years if this had been a White community,” said Elaine Guillory, whose family has lived in the contaminated area since 1974.
Despite discovering the spill in 1994, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment didn’t begin investigating the spill until 1999, five years later. And, even though after 13 years the groundwater concentration of the cancerous chemical at the site was 86,000 times the standards set by KDHE and concentration in the soil reached over 8,000 times the standard, the community still wasn’t notified.
There appeared to be no sense of urgency about cleaning up the land or about protecting the health and life of the affected residents.
Just as Chavis defined environmental racism in 1982, KDHE “officially sanctioned life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities,” for nearly two decades and told the community nothing about it.
By Chavis’ definition, it’s definitely environmental racism, and deserving of environmental justice.
The Community Voice is trying to assess the health damage and impact this bill may have had on residents – present and past – in that area.