If there is one thing I hate, it is hearing about yet another child who has cancer, and yes I do know one child personally. She is only 3 years old, and has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
However, this story concerning a young boy with leukemia has struck a chord because of the possibility that the pollutants that were pumped out into the air by the petro-chemical plants might have had an impact upon the health of this child.
No one can say for certain that Valentin’s illness was caused by the
air he breathed, but earlier this year, the University of Texas
released a study showing that children who live within two miles of the
ship channel have a 56 percent greater chance of getting leukemia than kids living elsewhere.
It’s the first study showing an association between the channel’s air
quality and childhood leukemia. The health risks from the shipping
canal are not limited to cancer. The chemicals in the air can cause other serious health problems, such as respiratory diseases and birth defects.
Tom McGarity, a professor of environmental law at the University of
Texas, believes such conditions are allowed to persist because 90
percent of the people who call the ship channel home are Hispanic and
many of them are poor.
“If these plants were omitting these
kinds of levels in River Oaks, it wouldn’t be happening, I promise,” he
said. River Oaks is one of the more affluent communities in Houston.
The connection between poverty and poor environmental conditions is not
limited to Texas. In many of the countries visited for CNN’s “Planet in
Peril” documentary, such as Cambodia, Thailand, Madagascar, Chad, China
and Brazil, it is the poor and disenfranchised who bear the brunt of
A similar dynamic plays out in the United
States, where class and very often race can determine where one lives.
In 2005, for example, The Associated Press reported blacks were 79
percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where
industrial pollution was suspected of posing the greatest health danger.
“It’s really mind-boggling that we could kind of write off, you know, a
whole section of our society,” said Majora Carter, founder of the
Sustainable South Bronx, which fights what Carter calls “environmental
racism” in New York and around the country.
“No one should have
to bear the brunt of environmental burdens and not enjoy any
environmental benefits, and right now race and class … really
determine the good things like parks and trees or the bad stuff like
waste facilities and power plants,” she said.
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