EDF Health

Environmental racism exists in our beauty products and must be addressed

Jennifer Ortega, Research Analyst, Environmental Health

Environmental racism is everywhere. At the neighborhood level, communities of color often experience worse air quality, fewer green spaces, or face more extreme temperatures. At the household level, families of color and low-income families experience a higher risk of lead in their drinking water and higher utility debt and energy insecurity. Inequities are even manifested in the items we use every day, with personal care products marketed to women of color often containing more toxic ingredients than those marketed to white women.

These toxic exposures are not driven by individual choices, but rather by where one lives, where one works, and by cultural beauty standards and norms. A new personal care product story map (also available in Spanish) consolidates federal labor and census data, as well as information from public health studies to show how the intersection of different factors manifests in racial disparities in the exposure to toxic ingredients in personal care products.  The map is part of an interactive web series, led by Tamarra James-Todd, Ph.D., and her team at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Read More »

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Update: EPA agrees to investigate civil rights allegations against Providence Water’s LSL replacement practices

Jennifer Ortega, Research Analyst, and Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

At the start of this year, Childhood Lead Action Project (CLAP), South Providence Neighborhood Association, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, National Center for Healthy Housing, and EDF submitted an administrative civil rights complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against Providence Water Supply Board (Providence Water), Rhode Island’s largest water utility. The complaint alleges that the water utility’s lead service line (LSL) replacement practices put Black, Latinx, and Native American residents at a disproportionately higher risk of lead exposure, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We are excited to share that EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO) accepted “for investigation [the] administrative complaint filed against the Providence Water Supply Board.” ECRCO “determined that the complaint meets the jurisdictional requirements” needed to examine the claims. The Office made its decision only five weeks after the administrative complaint was submitted, far quicker than the timeline for most other complaints.

ECRCO will now investigate whether Providence Water’s LSL replacement practices have the effect of discriminating against certain customers on the basis of race and national origin. The Office will also examine whether Providence Water properly administers procedural safeguards to ensure the utility is complying with non-discrimination regulations, as required for recipients of EPA funding. ECRCO has 180 days to issue its preliminary findings.

To our knowledge, this decision marks the first time ECRCO has agreed to examine a water utility and the all-too-common practice of requiring customers to pay to replace LSLs on private property as a potential civil rights violation. Read More »

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Civil rights complaint draws attention to the discriminatory impacts of common lead pipe replacement practice

Jennifer Ortega, Research Analyst, Environmental Health

This past Wednesday, Rhode Island’s Childhood Lead Action Project (CLAP) led a coalition of groups in submitting a civil rights complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against the Providence Water Supply Board (Providence Water), pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The administrative complaint highlights the discriminatory effects that can result when utilities require customers to share the cost of replacing the lead pipes that feed into their homes. The complaint was submitted as part of CLAP’s larger Lead-Free Water RI campaign, which calls “for an equitable, statewide plan for full, free lead pipe replacements for all Rhode Islanders.”

In the complaint, CLAP, South Providence Neighborhood Association, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, National Center for Healthy Housing, and EDF allege that the water utility’s process of replacing lead service lines (LSLs) — the lead pipes that run from the water main to the water meter in homes — has a disparate impact on Black, Latinx, and Native American residents in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and EPA’s implementing regulations. Read More »

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Breaking silence around Black women’s reproductive health: A conversation with Lilly Marcelin

Community activist Lilly Marcelin has dedicated her career to addressing racial and social inequities. In 2012, she founded and is now the Executive Director of the Boston-based organization, Resilient Sisterhood Project (RSP). The organization’s mission is to educate and empower women of African descent about common, but rarely discussed, diseases of the reproductive system that disproportionately affect them through workshops, trainings, empowerment circles, and community education and outreach programs. Ms. Marcelin ensures RSP’s work is done in partnership with – rather than on behalf of – Black women in order to address deeply rooted systemic racism.

I recently spoke with Lilly Marcelin to learn more about her advocacy around Black women’s reproductive health, including the importance of involving and centering Black women in this work. Read More »

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