Commentary: Refusal to burn weapons was good decision

This editorial appeared in The Lexington Herald-Leader.

Consider where chemical weapons are being burned, then where they have been or will be neutralized through a more environmentally benign process.

The incinerators are in places that are home to large poor and minority populations, are isolated or both: Pine Bluff, Ark.; Anniston, Ala.; Umatilla, Ore.; Tooele, Utah.

The military bowed to local insistence on neutralization in places, including Kentucky's Madison County, where residents are better educated, more likely to be white and able to flex more political muscle.

It's not fair or right, but it's a pattern repeated time and again in the siting of industries that send large amounts of toxic chemicals into the air.

The demographics of toxic air are detailed in a study released last week of newly available data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and the University of Southern California produced "Justice in the Air" (www.peri.umass.edu/justice), documenting the disparity in toxic exposure between the poor and people of color, and the rest of the population.

The study also includes a broad overall measure. And guess what: Kentucky is one of five states where residents are most likely to be breathing air contaminated by a long list of substances that make up the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory. The others are Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Louisiana.

The data are from 2005, before DuPont closed its plant in Louisville's Rubbertown, once a notorious source of chloroprene, a suspected carcinogen that damages eyes, skin, respiratory and reproductive systems.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Lexington Herald-Leader.