Coronavirus & Environmental Justice How COVID-19 exacerbates environmental injustice

For an overview watch this video!

"In the last four years, the actions engineered by this administration [Trump administration] to put profits over people have been especially detrimental to environmental justice communities, which include people of color, poor people and our indigenous brothers and sisters." -Adrienne Hollis; senior climate justice and health scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists (qtd. in Tigue)
"[W]hen you have poverty, lack of access to health care, [high rates of] uninsured, many who have no private automobiles and are dependent on the buses and public transportation, and neighborhoods in pollution sacrifice zones—and then you pile on top of that the stress of racism—you’re going to get people who are vulnerable. It’s not rocket science. These social determinants of health have been known for many years. And so the coronavirus is basically taking advantage of those vulnerabilities, and you’re seeing it play out in the deaths." -Robert Bullard; known as the father of environmental justice (qtd. in Ahmed)

Minoritized Communities' Health Implications Pre-Coronavirus

According to a 2018 federal report, minoritized communities have higher rates of health impacts. This is often because minoritized communities are more exposed to environmental hazards. (Tigue)

In the United States, Black people are 3X more likely to die from asthma than white people and have the highest rate of heart disease related deaths. (Tigue)

“You tell me your zip code, and I can tell you how healthy you are.” - Robert Bullard (qtd. in Ahmed)

Black, Latinx, and Native people in the United States are 203 times more likely to be a part of the working class, receiving low income, and are more likely to be uninsured. (Jackson)

Health implications that make one more susceptible to COVID-19

  • Asthma and heart disease (Tigue)
  • "People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions
  • People who are immunocompromised
  • Many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications.
  • People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
  • People with diabetes
  • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
  • People with liver disease” (CDC)

The Double: Industry & COVID-19

Air pollution increases the risk of developing respiratory diseases. Thus, air pollution also increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Air-pollution is putting low-income communities (predominantly communities of colors) at a higher risk of getting and dying from COVID-19.

The Trump administration suspended enforcement of environmental regulations such as the Clean Air Act during the pandemic. To read more about this, click here. (Tigue)

"[The] virus . . . appears to be attacking the respiratory system … and the cardiovascular system, it’s already hard to breathe in some of these neighborhoods. The coronavirus will make it even harder. It will kill you." -Robert Bullard (qtd. in Ahmed)

A recent study linked air pollution to high COVID-19 death rates.

Port Arthur, TX

Port Arthur has the largest oil refinery in the U.S. and contains a disproportionately high number of industrial polluters.

Population is predominantly people of color. A third of the population are Black.

"Apparently we are being looked upon as a sacrifice zone for the nation and the rest of the world to have sulfur free gasoline." -Hilton Kelley; a resident who is known for fighting for environmental justice in Port Arthur

Port Arthur is nicknamed ‘the cancer belt’ because of the high rates of cancer, asthma, and cardiovascular disease found here compared to state averages.

"By him [Trump] relaxing these laws and regulations, it’s a sure nail in the coffin for a lot of folks here in the Jefferson County area. It is a death sentence is what it is. We are already dying." -Hilton Kelley


The Double: Climate Change & COVID-19

Communities most impacted by the coronavirus can also be those that are disproportionately impacted by climate change.


Hurricanes and flooding can force people to leave their homes during stay at home orders.

Evacuation plans that include the use of shelters could spread the virus, leaving people of colors especially vulnerable.

Michigan's flood season is coming up.

In West Michigan storms have already left residents without power.

When a hurricane or flood damages someone's home, they must expose themselves to the virus in order to repair damages.


"On June 1, if we [in Texas] have an active hurricane season in communities that are already suffering from COVID-19, how can you shelter in place when you have to evacuate? Where do people go? If you go to a shelter, it’s going to be hard to social distance." -Robert Bullard (qtd. in Ahmed)

The Triple: Climate Change, Industry, COVID-19

St. James Parish

Includes an area known as “cancer alley” which has the highest rates of air pollution in the nation.

Ranked 17th in the U.S. among counties with highest coronavirus death rates as of April 2020.

"When the hurricanes come, we’re going to be impacted triple. With the hurricane, with the coronavirus and with the industry." -Sharon Lavigne; a resident who actively protests against industrial pollution in St.James Parish


Food Insecurity

Those with disposable income clean out grocery stores leaving low-income families with overpriced food.

"We can't buy food until we get off work, and by then the store shelves are empty—no rice or eggs or meat." -Luis Jimenez; the head of Alianza Agricola, an immigrant farm worker group in upstate New York

The workers who are often providing the food for grocery stores can’t get food themselves.


Diabetes is exacerbated by COVID-19 (CDC). This is a disease predominantly experienced by people living in low income communities and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colors) due to structural injustice in the distribution of healthy food.

Social Distancing in Farm Work

It can be challenging to social distance as a farm worker, as collaboration between people can be essential for a farm's success.

"At work we have to help each other all the time, like when we have to move a cow. You can't do this alone." - Jimenez; an immigrant farmworker


Online Shopping

The increased demand for online shopping by those with disposable income will lead to increased air pollution produced by Amazon facilities. The communities that live, and work in and near these facilities are predominantly people of colors where high rates of respiratory diseases are already prevalent.


Grassroots Resistance

Port Arthur

Click here to read an essay written by Patrice Simms and Hilton Kelley to raise awareness

Check out CIDA Inc. (Community In-Power and Development Association) founded by Hilton Kelley


Check out Michigan Covid-19 Community Response and their policy demands

If you agree with their policies you can show your support here

Also look into the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition

St. James Parish

Read about RISE; a grassroots environmental justice organization

And check out RISE’s facebook page!

Sign this petition that demands the Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards protect the communities of colors that are being compoundly impacted by industrial pollution and COVID-19

Food Insecurity

Read about Seattle’s grocery vouchers!

Mutual aid groups have been popping up all over the world! Click here to check out one in the Salt Lake Valley


Sign here to prevent coal ash pollution during COVID-19 in Northwest Indiana

Check out the petition by Got Green that demands a just response to COVID-19 in Seattle

Read about the petition that urges the EPA to enforce environmental regulations during COVID-19

Sign here to keep General Iron’s metal recycler facility from moving to East Side, Chicago

Sign the petition that demands a just COVID-19 action plan to be implemented in South Williamsburg and Bushwick, NYC

*Note that Change.org is a for-profit business. Any donations you give will not go to grassroots organizations or the people advancing the cause for which you are signing. Former employees of Change.org have recently stepped forward with this information, and have written a letter to Change.org demanding reparations and structural revisions to the company's donation policies (in light of the petition for justice for George Floyd that received over 16 million signatures). To read their letter click here.

Given that Black people are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, at a Black Lives Matter protest, it is of the utmost importance to follow safety measures (as you are able) to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

It is essential to note that recent spikes in coronavirus cases may not be the result of BLM protests, but rather are from the reopening of businesses and people ignoring CDC guidelines. Protesting systemic racism is advancing and fostering health and well-being! Read this article to learn more.

Check out the video below for a list of things you can do to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 at protests.

Further Questions

Are solutions for COVID-19 (wash your hands, 6 feet apart, stay at home) made for a white, middle-class, suburbian family?

"There's a whole segment of society that's invisible to policy framers, and everything I'm hearing so far about how we're supposed to deal with the coronavirus assumes we all have the same level of affluence. They're doing policy from a privileged position. If the invisible stay invisible to our policymakers, it will create a second disaster." -Robert Bullard (qtd. in Jackson)

What about single low income mothers that often rely on grandparents for childcare? How do you care for a child when you’re supposed to socially distance? (Jackson)

What about communities that don’t have access to clean water (Flint, Michigan, Indigenous communities that lack indoor plumbing)?

What if home is an apartment building with narrow corridors? How do you social distance yourself from your neighbors? (Jackson)

What are the socioeconomic positions of many frontline/essential workers?

Click here to learn more about how the food industry during COVID-19 has threatened the life of workers (that are often refugees, undocumented, Latinx, Black, and low income).

How should solutions change to be more inclusive? How could solutions change to ensure the health and safety of thousands when being impacted by the effects of industry, climate change, and COVID-19?

How are evacuation plans tailored towards white, upper-class people (that don't have to rely on public transportation or emergency vehicles because they can afford a car to evacuate, that may have a second home that they can escape to, that have family they can stay with)?

How could COVID-19 ignite a revolution in thinking, in action, in policy?

How could we use COVID-19 to reimagine an environmentally just and socially equitable future?

Works Cited

Ahmed, Amal. “The ‘Father of Environmental Justice’ on Why He Isn't Surprised by COVID-19 Health Disparities.” Texas Monthly, Texas Monthly, 17 Apr. 2020, www.texasmonthly.com/news/father-environmental-justice-coronavirus/.

CDC. “Information for Healthcare Professionals: COVID-19 and Underlying Conditions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Apr. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/underlying-conditions.html.

Jackson, Derrick Z. “Derrick Z. Jackson: Fighting for a Just COVID-19 Response.” EHN, Environmental Health News, 3 Apr. 2020, www.ehn.org/coronavirus-environmental-justice-2645619098.html?rebelltitem=8.

Tigue, Kristoffer. “COVID-19 and Climate Change Threats Compound in Minority Communities.” Scientific American, Scientific American, A Division of Springer Nature America, Inc., 20 Apr. 2020, www.scientificamerican.com/article/covid-19-and-climate-change-threats-compound-in-minority-communities/..


(in order of appearance)

Brey, James. “Factory Smoke Stacks Billow Thick Smoke or Steam Emissions into Sky.” Shutterstock, Shutterstock Inc., https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-18182368-factory-smoke-stacks-billow-thick-steam-emissions.

Covid-19. Africa: COVID-19 Cases Rise to 9,457, Deaths Reach 442, Anadolu Agency, 6 Apr. 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/africa-covid-19-cases-rise-to-9-457-deaths-reach-442/1794253.

Stethoscope. Health Care in California, CalMatters, https://calmatters.org/category/health/.

Covid-19 Molecules. Critical Care & COVID-19, Siemens Healthcare GmbH , https://www.siemens-healthineers.com/clinical-specialities/critical-care.

Goldman, David. “An Oil Refinery in Port Arthur.” TCEQ Report Could Pave the Way for Chemical Plants to Emit More Hazardous Air Pollutants, The Texas Observer, 18 July 2019, https://www.texasobserver.org/tceq-report-could-pave-the-way-for-chemical-plants-to-emit-more-hazardous-air-pollutants/.

Floods in Metro Detroit. Communities Across Metro Detroit Brace for Damaging Floods, Graham Holdings, 11 Jan. 2020, https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/local/2020/01/11/communities-across-metro-detroit-brace-for-damaging-floods/.

Ms Tech, and Getty Images. “A Tiny Planet.” Why the Coronavirus Outbreak Is Terrible News for Climate Change, MIT Technology Review, 9 Mar. 2020, https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/03/09/905415/coronavirus-emissions-climate-change/.

Blake, Mike. Empty Shelves in Grocery Store. How to Help Others in the COVID-19 Crisis, NewsHour Productions LLC, 13 Mar. 2020, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/how-to-help-others-in-the-covid-19-crisis.

Sanchez, Marcio Jose. Farm Worker Wearing Mask. Who Takes Care of the Farmworkers’ Children?, The Counter, 21 Apr. 2020, https://thecounter.org/farmworkers-children-undocumented-school-covid-19-coronavirus/.

Neal, Leon, and Getty Images. Amazon Boxes. Amazon Ruined Online Shopping, The Atlantic, 17 Jan. 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/01/amazon-made-online-commerce-bewildering/580660/.

Platt, Spencer, and Getty Images. Amazon Employees Protest and Walkout during Covid-19. "Just (Climate) Transition” Provides A Roadmap For “Just (COVID-19) Containment,” Forbes , 4 Apr. 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/prakashdolsak/2020/04/04/just-climate-transition-provides-a-roadmap-for-just-covid-19-containment/#496808514b5f.

Stanger, Jared. Black Lives Matter Supporters Display Their Messages Outside the Utah State Capitol. Photos: Thousands Protest in Salt Lake City over Death of George Floyd, Globeslcc, 2 June 2020, http://www.globeslcc.com/2020/06/02/george-floyd-protests-salt-lake-city-photos/.

Grist, et al. Factory and Covid-19 Art. How Vulnerable Is Your Community to Coronavirus? , Grist Magazine, Inc., 2 Apr. 2020, https://grist.org/justice/how-vulnerable-is-your-community-to-coronavirus-these-new-maps-reveal-a-familiar-pattern/.

Lin, Han. Group of People Wearing Masks. CoVID-19 Voices of Youth, Voices of Youth, 17 Apr. 2020, https://www.voicesofyouth.org/blog/covid-19.