Environmental Justice: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Angela Burke

Angela has over ten years of teaching experience in Special Education, classroom teaching and GT. She has a master's degree in Special Ed with an emphasis in Gifted.

The environment in which we live is important. In this lesson, find out what environmental justice is and how the health of many Americans depends on it.

Environmental Justice

How would you feel if you found out the water you were drinking was contaminated, or polluted? What if you discovered your neighborhood park was built on land where an old chemical factory once was? What would you do if the air you breathed was dirty and made you sick? I'm sure you'd want to move away to a place that was healthier and cleaner!

Unfortunately, many people who live in environmentally unsafe places can't afford to leave. They don't have enough money to go somewhere else or find a new job. Many of these people are minorities and poor people. How unfair! Environmental justice is the principle that every person, no matter what their race, culture, national origin or income level, has the right to live in a healthy environment.

Toxic Conditions

An environment is the surroundings or conditions in which people live. This includes people's homes, schools, jobs, and even the parks, rivers, lakes and land they visit. So what is an unhealthy environment?

You may be surprised to find out an unhealthy environment is anywhere where there are dangers. Older homes that have lead, a heavy metal that is poisonous, in pipes, paint or soil can cause serious damage to children and adults. Likewise, homes infested with animal droppings from roaches or mice can trigger asthma symptoms when inhaled, making it difficult for a person to breathe.

Air pollution

Other unhealthy environments are those where chemical spills occurred, or where hazardous wastes are stored. These types of waste can contaminate drinking water. Similarly, farms using pesticides to kill bugs on crops are unhealthy to people.

Fair Treatment

Would you want to live in a place where toxic waste was in your backyard? I'm pretty sure your answer is no way! Unfortunately, many people do, and many are minorities and people living in poverty. There are several reasons for this.

First, the majority of landfills and dumps that have hazardous material are placed in poor, non-white neighborhoods. Factories that use toxic materials are also more likely to be found where minorities live.

Second, the people living near this waste are rarely on city councils or other committees that make the decisions about where to store hazardous, or dangerous, waste. The people living in these neighborhoods don't have a voice to say that it isn't fair. And they don't have the money to hire lawyers to help them. This has caused people living in polluted areas to become much sicker than people living in non-contaminated places.

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