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BP Oil Waste Dumped in Environmental Justice Communities One Year Later

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Robert Bullard
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It has been one year since the massive BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster created an environmental nightmare on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The oil disaster killed 11 workers.   And for three months the nation watched and held its breadth as the busted BP well spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day. Government officials estimate the ruptured well leaked nearly 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill fouled 120 miles of U.S. coastline, imperiled multibillion fishing and tourism industries and killed birds, sea turtles and dolphins. The full health, environmental, and economic impact of this catastrophe may not become clear for decades.

While the media devoted round the clock coverage of the well capping and cleanup efforts, not much attention was given to where BP oil spill waste was being disposed. Environmental justice leaders were the first to raise concern about BP's waste management plan that was approved on June 13, 2010. They questioned a plan that would turn low-income and people of color communities in the Gulf Region into the " dumping grounds " for BP oil waste.  

Although people of color make up about 26 percent of the coastal counties in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the government approved most of the BP oil waste to be trucked to these communities. On July 15, 2010--the earliest reporting period--39,399 tons of BP waste went to nine landfills of which 21,867 tons (55.4 percent) were disposed in communities of color and 30,338 tons (77.0 percent) of oil waste went to communities where the percent people of color was greater than the percent people of color in the host county.

As of April 10, 2011--the latest reporting period--106,409 tons of BP waste went to 11 landfills, of which 45,032 tons (42.3 percent) went to landfills in majority people of color communities, and 90,554 tons (85.1 percent) went to landfills located in communities whose percent people of color population exceeded the county's percent people of color.

Clearly, one year after the BP oil disaster, environmental justice communities still bear the brunt of the oil waste disposal. These same communities also must contend with negative impacts of being fenceline with landfills but also face environmental health threats from increased truck traffic and vehicle emissions, especially diesel truck emissions. Residents who live fenceline with landfills are invisible and forgotten Americans--another injustice that needs to be corrected.  

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Robert D. Bullard is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. His most recent book is entitled "The Wrong Complexion (more...)

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