More than 400 toxic sites in California are at risk of flooding from sea level rise

Author

Rosanna Xia

Source(s)
Los Angeles Times

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These predominately Black and brown communities, in fact, are five times more likely than the general population to live within half a mile of a toxic site that could flood by 2050, according to a new statewide mapping project led by environmental health professors at UC Berkeley and UCLA. All told, the ocean could inundate more than 400 hazardous facilities by the end of the century — exposing nearby residents to dangerous chemicals and polluted water.

This three-year project, dubbed Toxic Tides, is the first systematic look at the environmental justice ramifications of sea level rise and hazardous sites along the entire coast of California. In collaboration with advocates like Zucker, researchers created a series of searchable maps that piece together where in California this flooding could occur, which industrial facilities face particularly risk, and how these threats disproportionately affect lower-income communities of color.

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If most of the residents living near a toxic site are not fluent in English, for example, the barriers to understanding the flood risks — and how to advocate for solutions — are far greater. Voter turnout, unemployment, the percentage of people who actually own their home (or even a car) are also factors indicating how much a community lacks political power, insurance protection and even the ability to evacuate in an emergency.

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As more funding and political attention turn to sea level rise, many caution against the tendency to reinforce existing environmental injustices. It is not a coincidence that lower-income communities of color are the ones living with freeways, refineries and other hazardous infrastructure that no one wants in their neighborhood.

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