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Report Outlines 'Environmental Racism' In St. Louis

Neighborhood volunteers in Hyde Park clean garbage from the street. Black neighborhoods in St. Louis are more likely to be subject to illegal dumping of potentially hazardous materials. [9/1/19]
Neighborhood volunteers in Hyde Park clean garbage from the street. Black neighborhoods in St. Louis are more likely to be subject to illegal dumping of potentially hazardous materials, according to the "Environmental Racism in St. Louis" report.

Environmental hazards in the neighborhoods of many black people in St. Louis put them at a higher risk of health problems than white residents, according to a report released Saturday. 

“Black St. Louisans are exposed to considerably greater environmental risks than white residents, contributing to stark racial disparities regarding health, economic, and quality of life burdens,” wrote the authors of “Environmental Racism in St. Louis."

The report is by the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic at Washington University School of Law and the Environmental Justice Roundtable. The coalition includes Action St. Louis, ArchCity Defenders, Dutchtown South Community Corporation and Sierra Club.

It compiles brief case studies and previously available statistics to highlight a pattern of health indicators in which residents of predominantly black neighborhoods in St. Louis fare worse than residents of other areas.

Black children are more likely than white children to be treated in the emergency room for asthma and to suffer from lead poisoning, according to the report. It also notes that black St. Louisans are more likely to suffer from exposure to dangerous mold and other forms of residential and industrial air pollution.

“It definitely connects some issues that are impacting folks in a framework that is really helpful to understand what’s exactly wrong, so that we can figure out a way forward,” said Kayla Reed, co-director of Action St. Louis.

Of the five city wards with the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning as of 2017, four are majority black. 

Black children in St. Louis are 2.4 times more likely than white children to test positive for lead in their blood. Overall, St. Louis children are twice as likely to have lead poisoning than children living elsewhere in Missouri. 

As of 2015, black children in St. Louis were making 10.8 times more emergency room visits for asthma than did white children.

“The environment in areas that are predominantly black produce worse outcomes for families and children than other areas,” Reed said. “So if you live by O’Fallon Park in North City, your child is more susceptible to things like asthma versus a child that grows up in the Shaw neighborhood.”

Many of the negative health impacts cited in the report relate to substandard housing and proximity to vacant properties and industrial sites. Such buildings often contain pollutants including asbestos, lead-based paint and industrial chemicals.

More than 90% of the city’s vacant properties are located in majority-black neighborhoods, according to an analysis of figures maintained by STL Vacancy Collaborative. 

About a quarter of vacant properties in St. Louis are located in three neighborhoods — Wells-Goodfellow, JeffVanderLou and Greater Ville — whose populations are at least 97% black as of the 2010 federal census. 

Beyond the risk posed by crumbling buildings containing pollutants outlawed by current building codes, vacant properties are also more likely to be the sites of illegal dumping of hazardous materials. According to the report, the six neighborhoods with the most complaints about illegal dumping — Baden, Dutchtown, Greater Ville, Penrose, Walnut Park East and Wells-Goodfellow — are all majority-black. 

“Some of the issues around vacancy continue to be a very persistent and deeply troubling issues, said Amanda Colon-Smith, executive director of Dutchtown South Community Corporation. More investment in under-developed neighborhoods will help ease some of the disparities outlined in the report, she said.

“You’ll see decreases in illegal dumping. You’ll see more quality, safe housing conditions that will be lead-free and mold-free,” Colon-Smith said. “There are so many benefits to reinvesting into the vacant structures in our neighborhood that, if done intentionally and thoughtfully, will help to undo and combat the decades of disinvestment in redlined neighborhoods.”

The report also cited higher energy bills paid by residents of older housing stock, and less access to grocery stores stocking nutritious food.


Jeremy can be found on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.

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Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.