I was more than ecstatic to be selected to participate in a CSLEPS alternative spring break experience. This trip highlighted environmental justice issues in eastern North Carolina. This six day trip exposed the group to minority communities that are experiencing environmental injustice everyday. Throughout the week we were able to meet with different environmental leaders and the one that touched me the most was Naeema Muhammad, the organizing co-director of North Carolina Environmental Justice Network.
The NC Environmental Justice Network is a nonprofit organization with the following mission statement: “To promote health and environmental equality for all people of North Carolina through community action for clean industry, safe work places, and fair access to all human and natural resources. We seek to accomplish these goals through organizing, advocacy, research, and education based on principles of economic equity and democracy for all people.” This organization seeks the equality to obtain a safe and healthy environment no matter the race, ethnicity or income of the community. Naeema enlightened our group about the issues the citizens of Duplin and Sampson County face every day due to their race and economic status.
Naeema told us all about CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) and how they were disrupting the counties environment and health by exposing the citizens to animal waste by emitting it into their water systems and air. She explained that there were more hogs than people in both counties and how these two counties were the leading areas for CAFOs. These counties are getting taken advantage of due to their low economic status and majority minority population by big industries. These areas get targeted because minorities do not know how to speak out against environmental problems and need the jobs the hog industries provide.
The farms raise large numbers of hogs in confined structures that emit toxic gases and particles into the environment. The hogs produce so much waste in such a small area in result to this large pits referred to as lagoons are made and later sprayed into neighboring fields. The pervasive odor and airborne irritants produced by these practices causes serious problems for neighbors of CAFOs. When hog waste is stored in lagoons, it leaches into the groundwater, contaminating the local water supply with nitrates, disease-causing bacteria, and hormones and antibiotics from fortified feed.
Naeema then explained that health concerns are an even greater problem because these hazardous waste management practices are poorly regulated. CAFOs are self regulated, which means they are responsible for reporting damaged or deteriorated equipment, spills, and leaks. This process however leads to poor enforcement of the environmental protections that are in place.
This experience allowed me to gain straightforward and honest information about environmental issues. It made me more appreciative of my major and ensured my passion for the environment is heading in the right direction. It made me realize that whatever work I want to pursue I need to do it with the best interest of not only the environment but also the community.
Becoming a Better Student and Citizen – Read Janya’s final reflection of her experience