Environmental justice is defined as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” (US EPA) Since pollution affects lower-income/ most vulnerable populations far more than people who are of higher socioeconomic status, environmental justice has not to be achieved in the US and many places around the world. Studies show that 92% of deaths related to pollution occur in countries of lower or middle income. Nearly one in six deaths are attributed to pollution-related afflictions worldwide, and in 2015, nearly nine million deaths resulted from pollution in water, air, or soil or certain occupational pollution.
Environmental injustice is a stark reality in Northwest Indiana. Of the 40 Superfund sites (most polluted areas of the country) in the state of Indiana, seven are located in Lake County. The northern portion of the county has two major highways, three large steel mills, a major oil refinery, numerous chemical and industrial facilities and a multitude of abandoned lots. Also, the area contains over 400 underground storage tanks and a similar number of hazardous waste sites. According to information submitted by the industries to the EPA in 2016, 38.3 million pounds of toxic substances were released either on or off-site in Northwest Indiana. There is no doubt that the people who live in close proximity to these pollution releasing entities are more likely to experience health problems.
When we open our eyes and minds, we witness injustice near and far. From pollution to inadequate food and shelter to diminished resources related to climate change, injustice is present in many places. From Psalm 15, “They who do justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” We are called to help our brothers and sisters who experience injustices. Are our eyes and hearts open to the myriad of environmental and social injustices? How much are we responding to the call to act for justice?
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work