Bullard to offer message of environmental justice during Maytum Convocation Lecture

head shot of Dr. Robert Bullard

Dr. Robert Bullard

By Lisa Eikenburg

Dr. Robert Bullard, “The Father of Environmental Justice,” will deliver the annual Maytum Convocation Lecture at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26, in King Concert Hall.

Dr. Bullard’s talk, “Building Environmentally Just, Sustainable, and Resilient Communities for All: Why Equity Matters,” will explore how the environmental justice framework redefined environmentalism, sustainability, and resilience while challenging institutional racism and the dominant environmental protection paradigm. His research and policy work is said to illustrate that America – and American pollution – are both segregated. He will argue, zip code is still the most important indicator of an individual’s health and well-being. Individuals who live on the “wrong side of the tracks” are subjected to elevated environmental health threats and more than their fair share of preventable diseases. Dr. Bullard will explain why an Environmental Justice Movement is a national priority, and how addressing equity is a prerequisite to achieving healthy, sustainable, livable communities.

The lecture is sponsored by the Maytum Distinguished Lecture Endowment and the Williams Visiting Professorship Endowment of the Fredonia College Foundation. Tickets are required but free; they will be available at the Fredonia Ticket Office in the Williams Center at the beginning of September.

In 2015, the nation learned that the drinking water in Flint, Mich., was poisoning the city’s residents. At least 12 peoples were killed by Legionnaires Disease during the crisis. The city’s residents still do not have clean drinking water, and the practice of providing bottled water to residents has ended.

In North Dakota, plans to locate a pipeline that would carry Bakken crude oil near the drinking water supply of Bismarck were scrapped, at the recommendation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, because of the potential threat to the water of the inhabitants. Instead, the pipeline was redirected along a line where a rupture could threaten the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux. Water protectors protested, but the line was built anyway. After six months in operation, it had leaked five times.

Much closer to home in Fredonia, the environmental disaster termed Love Canal began when Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation dumped chemical wastes into the canal beginning in 1942. Blood samples and measurements of the levels of toxic vapors revealed a significant health threat that is now understood to be responsible for a number of miscarriages and children born with disabilities in the area in the late 1970s.

In an example that may be less known, the Akwesasne reservation is home to about 8,000 Mohawk people. Located on the St. Lawrence River, inhabitants of the reservation have suffered from PCBs brought into their community by the river, into which General Motors, Reynolds (formerly the Aluminum Company of America), and Domtar (a Canadian company) emitted fluorides since the late 1950s. PCBs have been linked to breast cancer and liver, brain, nerve, and skin disorders in humans. The land also tested positive for high levels of heavy metals, including lead, chromium, mercury, cadmium, and antimony.

The abovementioned examples – and many more that exist in the U.S. – are said to share one similarity. The communities afflicted by these human-made environmental disasters were poorly positioned to protect themselves. Disproportionately, environmental injustices affect poor communities populated by a significant number of people of color.

Dr. Bullard has been fighting the imbalance through his activism and in his scholarship for more than three decades. He has documented the correlation between healthy places and healthy people. Much of his life’s work has been devoted to uncovering the underlying assumptions that contribute to and produce unequal protection. His decades-long commitment has earned him the title “The Father of Environmental Justice.”

Dr. Bullard’s lecture begins the university’s 2018-2019 series of Convocation events which focus on “A Search for Justice.” For more information about upcoming events, visit http://home.fredonia.edu/convocation. For more information, contact Jennifer Hildebrand, Convocation Committee chair, at hildebra@fredonia.edu.