Environmental groups are pushing for changes to North Carolina’s industry permitting process, which they say fails to consider the cumulative impacts of environmental pollution.
People exposed to multiple chemicals and environmental stressors tend to have higher rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other health problems.
Sherri White-Williamson, director of environmental justice policy for the North Carolina Conservation Network, said that currently the state Department of Environmental Protection does not consider cumulative impacts when approving or denial of permits for facilities often located in vulnerable communities.
“Within five miles of one particular community in Sampson County, there are now two facilities that have been licensed to convert hog waste into biogas,” White-Williamson observed. “There are concentrated power operations active, very close to an interstate highway.”
Earlier this year, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued a Executive Decree Create an environmental justice officer position in each state agency responsible for collecting pollution feedback from residents living in underserved communities. The order also directed state agencies to use federal and state funds to clean up affected communities.
Daisha Williams, environmental justice manager for CleanAire NC, said while fostering conversations with affected residents is important, state officials should strive to implement policies to incorporate and measure the cumulative impacts when deciding where to install new sources of pollution.
“Communities are still hurting, and we need tools and solutions,” Williams explained. “Not just something that’s kind of there to tick a box in the clearance or remediation process.”
The accumulation of stressors related to air pollution and climate change can also affect mental health. Research from the New England Journal of Medicine shows that natural disasters and climate-related displacement can increase the risk mental health disorders, anxiety and depression.
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