On April 27th, governor of Connecticut Ned Lamont signed into law Public Act 22-128, subsequently creating a state holiday called Juneteenth Independence Day. I am proud to have grown up in a state that reserves a day of commemoration for the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. But, while residents of my state celebrate the creation of this law, I thought I would write about some of the ways black communities in Connecticut are still being oppressed today.
With an infant mortality rate of 0.42%, an obesity rate of 29.1%, a smoking rate of 12.1%, and one of the lowest suicide rates in the country, this small, southern New England state of Connecticut seems to be a haven for those seeking healthy air and water. But, upon a quick closer inspection, one will find that race and class play as big of a role in the health and life span of this state’s inhabitants as they do in most states around the country. 71% of Connecticut’s minority population, and 51% of the state’s population in poverty, live in the five major cities of Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, and Waterbury. These urban areas have over 600 potential pollution sources, which would not be worth mentioning if those living nearby were not heavily affected. First, while Connecticut’s infant mortality rate is low compared to the national average, babies born to black mothers there are four times as likely to die before their first birthday than babies born to white mothers. Babies born to black mothers are also twice as likely to be born at low birth weights. Black children and teenagers are 5.5 times as likely to visit the emergency room due to asthma, and 4.5 times as likely to be hospitalized because of the condition. Black residents of these cities are also twice as likely to have diabetes. The average age of death in urban vs. suburban areas can differ by more than two decades, as seen in the comparison between life expectancy in Northeast Hartford (majority black residents) and Westport (majority white residents) here.
While there is pressure to improve hospital data collection, progress in preserving green spaces in urban areas, passage of new motor vehicle emissions standards, and new near-zero acceptable limits for PFA’s in drinking water, the relief from reading about these stories should pale in comparison to the depression following the realization that 71% of Connecticut’s minorities have had to live among the toxic waste found in urban environments across the state. Plus, legislative progress does not always come with significant improvements in public health, an example being the constant emission of toxic smells and dust in Waterbury despite the existence of a 12 year-old environmental justice statute.
While the importance of informing everyone about Connecticut’s environmental justice battle is apparent, this blog’s purpose is to highlight a thoroughly covered yet still topical point. Environmental injustice is one of the modern ways black communities are oppressed and exploited in this country. It is easier to place 600 potential pollution sources in low-income, minority communities because they have less social capital, less ability to fight back. While I focused on my home state, environmental injustices wreak havoc across the country, especially in places like Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.” I do not intend to ridicule Connecticut for mistreating its minority populations, but with Juneteenth having just occurred, it is important that everyone remember that even minorities living in sections of New England usually thought of as wealthy experience environmental oppression.
“Governor Lamont Signs Legislation Recognizing Juneteenth as a Legal State Holiday.” CT.gov, https://portal.ct.gov/Office-of-the-Governor/News/Press-Releases/2022/05-2022/Governor-Lamont-Signs-Legislation-Recognizing-Juneteenth-as-a-Legal-State-Holiday.
Alas, Horus. “The 10 Healthiest States in the U.S. | Best States | US News.” U.S.News, 12 Mar. 2021, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/slideshows/10-healthiest-states-in-the-us.
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“Infant Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Sept. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/infantmortality.htm#:~:text=In%20addition%20to%20giving%20us,deaths%20per%201%2C000%20live%20births.
Becker, Arielle Levin. “Health Disparities in Connecticut.” Health Disparities in Connecticut: Causes, Effects, and What We Can Do, Connecticut Health Foundation, Jan. 2020, https://www.cthealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Health-disparities-in-Connecticut.pdf.
“Governor Lamont Announces $7.5 Million in State Grants to Preserve 1,013 Acres of Open Space and Renew Green Spaces in Urban Areas.” CT.gov, https://portal.ct.gov/Office-of-the-Governor/News/Press-Releases/2022/06-2022/Governor-Lamont-Announces-State-Grants-To-Preserve-Open-Space.
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Moritz, John. “Toxic Chemicals in Some CT Water Supplies Potentially More Dangerous than Previously Thought.” CT Insider, CTInsider, 17 June 2022, https://www.ctinsider.com/news/article/Toxic-chemicals-in-some-CT-water-supplies-17247157.php.
Weiss, Abby. “Connecticut Passed an Environmental Justice Law 12 Years Ago, but Not That Much Has Changed.” Inside Climate News, 30 Nov. 2020, https://insideclimatenews.org/news/21072020/connecticut-environmental-justice-law/.