In the Bay Area, a good deal is hard to come by, real estate is priced at a premium. Unless you purchase in the town of North Richmond, where a Chevron plant thrives. However, the residents are suffering as a result from exposure to massive amounts of chemicals that are burned off daily by this refinery. The plant provides a fantasy-like backdrop at night; however, the fantasy ends when the environmental injustice begins. Residents complain of asthma and heart disease at rates that are exponentially higher than those of the rest of their demographic in other locations. Residents have horror tales of environmental emergencies that plagues the youth of North Richmond. A recently relocated retiree also shares his perspective on how the pollution may have additional un-researched consequences as well. The plant was placed in North Richmond when it was known as the village of East yards. The refinery needed to accommodate new pipelines: “William Rheem scouted the Bay Area for a location that would accommodate a new refinery and pipeline terminal. He found the ideal site along a dusty country road that terminated near a tiny railroad settlement called East Yards…later named Point Richmond, would soon become the center of the Pacific Coast refining industry.” (Chevron). What followed afterward is the scenario of how public policy can dictate environmental injustice.
There was a movement by the Richmond Housing Authority in 1941 to build many low cost houses for workers. However, when World War II ended, blacks had to avoid Jim Crow laws and segregation. Left with no other option than to purchase homes in North Richmond there resulted a concentration of low-income blacks as the primary demographic (to the present day) in North Richmond. Not by choice are these inhabitants, but rather by necessity: “It’s [the environmental injustice] the triple whammy of race, poverty and environment converging nationwide to create communities near pollution sources where nobody else wants to live.” (Kay, J. & Katz, L). One interesting perspective presented in this article is by a retiree who says that since relocating to North Richmond he has headaches and breathing difficulties. Furthermore, he discusses the unusual levels of violence found in North Richmond’s youth and hypothesizes that it might be attributable to the psychotic effects of the pollutants that are ingested by living in North Richmond. There have been psychopathic effects identified with the carcinogenic pollutants that the plant emits; therefore, it certainly makes sense that these contaminants cold contribute to the levels of violence in North Richmond.
Natives who grew up in North Richmond have horrifying tales of the air being so smoked out from pollutants that school busses would drive the kids out of the area and return after school. Students would play outside until a familiar smell would hit the nose and make the eyes water. All the kids knew it was because the nearby refinery as “flaring”.
The effects on the residents have been numerous: one man reports being the only one in his family without severe asthma. Children recall being called in the house and having their mothers shut the windows. However, environmental tests have proven high levels of contamination inside as well as outside. Children are living on nebulizers to cope with the toxicity of the air.
The injustice of this is not just environmental; Chevron alone spews out more chemicals than the local ecology can manage. The injustice is social for it these individuals are left without other options for purchasing homes, or have inherited homes from ancestors who had no other options in where to purchase their home.
- About Chevron Richmond, the early years 1902-1914. n.d. Chevron. http://richmond.chevron.com/home/aboutchevronrichmond/history/history_early_years.a spx
- Kay, J. & Katz, C. 2012. Pollution, poverty, people of color: the factory on the hill. Environmental Health News. Retrieved from: http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/pollution-poverty-and-people- of-color-richmond-day-1