ST. LOUIS — A bill by U.S. Rep. Cori Bush aims to tackle environmental racism by creating a sweeping study of factors — from lead pollution to food deserts and police killings — that disproportionately affect public health in Black neighborhoods across the country.
The study would create a national database of a growing body of research on the parallels between racial and environmental inequities in segregated neighborhoods, including a 2019 Washington University report that found the city’s Black residents are exposed to far greater environmental risks than whites.
In addition to the neighborhood-level, nationwide study, the legislation — introduced Thursday by Bush, D-St. Louis, and written with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. — would help direct federal funding for environmental and public health initiatives to the areas that need it most.
The disparity fuels stark differences in health, wealth and quality of life between neighborhoods, the report said: “It should come as no surprise that black St. Louisans are disproportionately harmed by lead poisoning, asthma, mold, and high energy costs — “all of which are associated with factors such as substandard housing conditions and air pollution — due to living near industrial facilities, highways and building demolitions.”
Other WU studies have documented similar disparities, including in air quality. A 2020 report by the university found the city’s poor, segregated neighborhoods are at a greater risk of cancer from air pollutants, and proximity to heavy traffic accounts for a leading share of that vulnerability.
Bush said the national study would also examine impacts of radioactive waste left over from uranium production that was buried in the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton, and also along sections of Coldwater Creek, which runs from St. Ann to the Missouri River.
The study would include rates of police killings and misconduct, as well as gun violence, Bush said, citing a recent study by ArchCity Defenders that found at least 179 people died from 2009 through 2019 in jail or in incidents involving police in the region.