Chemical engineers should understand the term environmental justice (EJ), its legal implications and impacts on operations, design, siting, business strategies, and project implementation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines EJ as the fair treatment of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies (1). Fair treatment implies that no population should be forced to shoulder a disproportionate share of exposure to the negative effects of pollution due to lack of political or economic strength.
The U.S. has addressed EJ through law and executive action under multiple administrations to protect “overburdened communities,” defined as: minority, low-income, tribal, and indigenous populations or communities in the U.S. that potentially experience disproportionate environmental harms and risks due to exposures, cumulative impacts, or greater vulnerability to environmental hazards.
As recognized by agency authorities, this increased vulnerability may result from negative environmental, health, economic, or social conditions such as generational financial stress that limits mobility, poorly supported schools that limit employment opportunities, and food deserts that contribute to poor health. When manufacturing centers and waste management sites grow up around overburdened communities, residents often can’t afford relocating or leaving their...
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