US civil rights suit over toxic incinerator

March 12, 1991

SAN FRANCISCO, February 13 — Residents of the small town of Kettleman City today brought a major civil rights suit over the siting of a toxic waste incinerator in their low-income, Latino community in Kings County.

The suit marks the first time that civil rights law has been used to try to block the siting of a toxic waste facility. Chemical Waste Management, the largest toxic waste company in the US, is behind the project.

"Chem Waste targets communities like ours all over this country", said Mary Lou Mares, a leader of El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio (People for Clean Air and Water), the community group which brought the suit. "We're saying basta! [enough!]"

Chem Waste now runs the nation's third largest hazardous waste dump some four miles from Kettleman City, and wants to add a massive toxic waste incinerator at the dump site.

The suit charges that Chemical Waste Management has sited the toxic waste incinerator in the poor, farm worker community as part of a broader, nationwide pattern of siting dangerous toxic waste dumps in poor communities with substantial populations of people of colour.

Chem Waste operates three other incinerators around the country: one is in a neighbourhood that is 72% African American and 11% Latino; one is in a town 73% black which has an average household income of just $7200; one is in an area 40% African American and 6% Latino. It also operates the nation's largest toxic waste dump in a poverty-stricken town in Alabama's "Black Belt", 79% black, with a median household income of $7300.

As well as siting toxic facilities in poor communities where people of colour live nationwide, the suit charges that even within Kings County there is a discriminatory siting pattern. "Every Kings County town but one is majority white — guess where they put the incinerator?", said Bradley Angel, west coast toxic campaigner for Greenpeace. Greenpeace has worked with the Kettleman community for three years to oppose the incinerator. — Greenpeace US/PEGASUS

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