CRUE Discussion Guide: Environmental Justice


Among the numerous issues faced by low-income students of color, the disproportionate impact of environmental toxins on their health and ability to thrive often gets forgotten.  It is a well-documented reality that poor communities and communities of color in particular are unfairly burdened with pollution and contamination linked to the dumping and storage of toxic materials.   These communities are harmed through discrimination in the areas of land use, transportation, housing policy, employment, health care, economic opportunities, access to information, and limited influence over political processes.  This trend of intentional discrimination is often referred to as environmental racism; the environmental justice movement has made a great deal of progress in the fight against these oppressive and damaging practices.  As a result of the efforts of environmental justice activists, the EPA established the Office of Environmental Justice in 1992 and in 1994 an Executive Order established an Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.      


Still environmental racism persists, this video provides a disturbing example of how environmental racism takes place and impacts the low-income predominately Black city of Camden, New Jersey.  Environmental racism also has a major impact on children, states, “children of color who live in poor areas are more likely to attend schools filled with asbestos, live in homes with peeing led [sic] paint, and play in parks that are contaminated.”  Colorlines reports that many young girls of color are entering puberty at a very young age due to exposure to chemical contaminants leading to developmental problems and high rates of cancer in adulthood.  


It can be disheartening for educators to see so many factors working against low-income students of color, but these students often succeed in spite of all these challenges and can become activists themselves with the support of educators and mentors.  Students at Cole Middle School recently started a clean water campaign in their neighborhood and can be seen in this video going door-to-door assisting people in their community in installing water filters. 


There is much work to be done in this area, but the passion shown by many individuals and groups working towards environmentally just and responsible practices is cause for hope. 


Discussion Questions:


1.      Go to and look at the reports on pollution in the areas where you live and work.  Did the results surprise you?  If you live and work in different areas how do the reports vary?  Is it possible that any differences you see could be attributed to environmental racism? 

2.      How can you and other educators integrate lessons about environmental justice into your curriculum?  Besides science classes, where else would education about the environment be a good fit?


Further Reading:


Environmental Justice/Environmental Racism


United Church of Christ: Environmental Justice Information and Resources


Federal Highway Administration: Environmental Justice Resources


Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality by Robert D. Bullard


Colorlines: Here’s Where BP is Dumping Its Oil Spill Waste


Things To Do:


Integrate information about environmental issues into your lessons:

·        Teaching Tolerance: Environmental Racism Activities

·        EPA: Teaching Center

·        Earth Force: Tools for Teachers


Find out about the Environmental Justice Projects going on in area and see what you can do to support these efforts. 


CRUE Book Studies:

To learn more about low-income students of color consider signing up for a CRUE Center Book Study like Crystal Kuykendall’s book From Rage to Hope: Strategies for Reclaiming Black and Hispanic Students.  Earn 1 CEU for just $75.  For more information visit or email us at 



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