Toxic Tour

A Visit to Waste-Dumping Sites Shows UN Conference to Be Ignoring Environmental Racism

A 10-minute drive from the Engen plant is a former mercury and arsenic toxic waste dump surrounded by run-down houses. The area is a classic case of environmental racism, in which toxic waste is exported from rich white communities to poor black ones. In 1997, when the smell was too great to bear, the community succeeded in having the site closed. Bobby Peek, director of the South African-based Environmental Justice and Human Right's Organization GroundWork, says of his people's victories over the past few years, "We smell; we become monitors." Peek has lost his mother, his niece, and three rugby buddies over the last few years to cancer. To him, this is no mere coincidence.

As tour participants hovered near the gates of the site (now apparently a nontoxic dump for ash), Peek received a call on his cell phone from the manager of the site threatening to have him arrested for trespassing. Peek was careful to note that no one had trespassed, and in defense of his unannounced arrival, Peek responded, "It's not about private property; it's about our land in our community, and all we are doing is bringing people here to peacefully observe your practices." Corporate accountability, Peek believes, comes only when local residents document the evidence.

After digesting the toxic nightmare that is South Durban, Corbin-Mark of WeACT wondered how the UN Conference Against Racism organizers and attendees could possibly ignore what was right under their noses. The victims of some of the most deadly racism have yet to be offered a forum to make their case.

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"Compensation Counts: An Activist Speaks on Reparations and the UN Conference Against Racism" by Chisun Lee

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