Economic Imperialism and Environmental Inequality

116px-CoalBy Georgia Davis Conover

A Miami company is at the center of an international controversy involving the Dominican Republic and AES Corp., an American owned coal-burning plant located in Puerto Rico.  Six years ago, the Miami company transported coal ash from the Puerto Rican facility to a port in the Dominican Republic.  Ash recycling can be a profitable business and the ash, a by-product of coal-based power generation, was supposed to be processed and turned into products like asphalt, to be shipped back to the United States.  The deal became bogged down in financial and political problems and the ash remained piled at the Dominican Republic port for a period of three years.  After reports of birth defects and deformed fetuses, a lawsuit forced the ash to be cleaned up, but health problems persisted.  Health advocates blame continued deaths and birth defects on the high levels of metals, such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and nickel found in the ash.  AES acknowledges that the ash does contain metals but claims none of them are toxic.  Another lawsuit is now pending in a US court.

In “Environmental Racism: Inequality in a Toxic World,” David Naguib Pellow writes about the growing body of geographic literature demonstrating a connection between social and environmental inequality.  This literature reveals a general pattern by which marginalized and disempowered groups of people are disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution.  And, as the coal ash case indicates, these patterns are multi-scalar.  Environmental inequality cannot be understood through local level investigation alone.  Rather, uneven environmental impacts may need to be linked to wider processes through which political, economic and social power is produced and maintained.

60% world Read the full story and view a short video.

60% world Pellow, David Naguib. 2005. “Environmental Racism: Inequality in a Toxic World.” The Blackwell Companion to Social Inequalities.

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