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Environmental discrimination: EPA refuses to protect Latino students from pesticide poisoning, ignores complaints for 12 years


(NaturalNews) The fact that it took 12 years for the EPA to resolve an investigation into pesticide use near a high school in California should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with the agency's complete inability to actually protect people and the environment.

The EPA has received more than 300 complaints stating that environmental regulations discriminate against minority communities, but they have never formally found any violations of civil rights.

The Center for Public Integrity reports that not one of the eight complaints made in Oregon since 1996 have even been investigated. They also discovered that the agency takes an average of 350 days to decide whether or not to launch an investigation into a case – that's nearly a year!

In fact, the EPA only made its first preliminary finding of discrimination five years ago. In that case, seven parents had filed an official complaint in the state of California claiming that the dangerous pesticide methyl bromide was being used more heavily in an area near a high school that has a high population of Latino students. Methyl bromide has been linked with kidney and lung damage, in addition to neurological effects.

A settlement was negotiated, and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation placed an air monitor near the school in exchange for not admitting any wrongdoing.

It had taken the agency 12 years to resolve the case, and in the meantime the 1989 Montreal Protocol had banned the use of methyl bromide, and it had been replaced by other toxic pesticides.

High Country News
correspondent Sarah Tory said: "During the time the EPA took to investigate the impacts of methyl bromide, the pesticide had been phased out, and it had been replaced by a new pesticide called methyl iodide. Methyl iodide is also linked to numerous health problems, and the EPA knew this but didn't account for it in their investigation."

An appeals court has since sided with the original ruling.

New plan not expected to change much

The EPA is trying to make up for its past misdeeds with a new initiative that aims to bring environmental justice to what it calls "overburdened communities." However, many observers feel that this is unlikely to make much of a difference.

The plan, which is known as EJ 2020, says the agency is going to make "a visible difference in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities," by using a mapping tool that will show regulators the communities with excessive pollution, among other measures.

However, critics point out that the plan does not do much in the way of strengthening one highly effective tool for dealing with environmental racism, and that is Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Under that provision, the EPA has the authority to make sure that any agencies that receive funding from it, such as the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, do not act in any manner that is discriminatory.

9 out of 10 environmental discrimination complaints dismissed

Investigations carried out by the Center for Public Integrity show that the EPA's Office of Civil Rights has actually dismissed 90 percent of claims of environmental discrimination, and has never formally found a violation of Title VI in its 23 years in existence.

The EPA has apparently been making a habit of dragging its feet in such situations. Last July, the agency was sued by communities in five different states for its failure to complete investigations that have been going on for more than a decade. The lawsuit says that the EPA's "pattern and practice of unreasonable delay" has resulted in residents being forced to endure pollution from oil refineries, power plants and landfills.

It's no secret that the EPA is incompetent at best, and downright dangerous at worst, and this story is yet another example of why the agency is in serious need of an overhaul.

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