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  • Jennifer Nguyen

Prioritizing Profit over People

A health crisis is not urgent until privileged populations become casualties. Oftentimes, during these crises, privileged populations are helped at the expense of minority populations. For instance, the HIV/AIDS epidemic became a national calamity because heterosexual individuals, which composed the majority of the U.S. population at the time, feared that they would contract HIV/AIDS. Thus, because HIV/AIDS was believed to originate from homosexual individuals, homophobia spread in an attempt to protect heterosexual individuals, leaving homosexual individuals behind in the dust. For instance, healthcare workers like Dr. Hunter Handsfield promoted homophobia in order to protect heterosexual individuals like himself from the potential “threat” of homosexuals. Dr. Handsfield emphasized that because heterosexuals are at such a low risk, no matter how promiscuous they are, there must be “something special about gay sexuality with respect to disease transmission.1” Even when faced with evidence that heterosexual infections more than doubled in 1985,2 he and other health authorities did not believe the surge warranted a warning to heterosexual individuals that they, too, could sexually transmit HIV/AIDS.1

The same trend of disregarding minority populations persists 50 years later. But, unlike the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the health crisis at hand has an undeniable culprit to blame: Chemours– a chemical plant. Chemours produce a specific toxin called Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that decompose over thousands of years.4 These toxins get expelled into drinking water used for North Carolina’s poorer communities, disproportionately harming poor and non-white residents.3 Because these communities primarily consist of impoverished and non-White individuals, there is considerable debate whether removing Chemours from drinking water is a worthwhile problem to solve, despite the fact that it causes irreversible damage to the bodies of these underserved individuals.

Specifically, the hearing on House Bill 1095, which sought to regulate PFAS contamination, was a battleground between the interests of corporations and NC residents.5 For these underserved NC residents, without any interventions, PFAS would still remain in their drinking water, as the toxin will still have half of its original concentration after nearly 4 years.6 However, despite this, leaders still opposed the bill in favor of supporting corporations, citing that regulation already exists.5 This battle between corporations and NC residents on PFAS regulation extends beyond this hearing, but as always, corporations still win. For example, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges that PFAS promotes an abundance of health risks, the agency refuses to ban the entire PFAS chemical class without further research.4 Instead, environmental agencies across the nation recommend inadequate and inconsistent limits for different types of PFAS compounds rather than the banning or restricting the whole class of toxins.4

In yet another example of government negligence, the Department of Environmental Quality, which is responsible for monitoring Chemours,6 has faced over $500,000 in total for their poor compliance in assessing levels of PFAS contamination.7, 8 Like other NC entities promising to serve public health, DEQ promises to implement policies that address issues like PFAS, but instead creates policies that benefit wealthier corporations. In the words of the North Carolina Black Alliance, this is “violence in the form of policy.”3 Yet, despite reprimands from the North Carolina Black Alliance, time and time again, federal and NC state governments continue to choose policies that promote economic development, harming their most vulnerable constituents. Policymakers, who benefit economically themselves from prioritizing corporations, make excuses for these policies, claiming that affected residents should fend for themselves amidst a clean water crisis.

In an attempt to offer insight into the real dangers of negligent PFAS regulation, Emily Donovan, an advocate for underserved populations, cried “as she listed friends who have died of or developed rare cancers,” while living along rivers contaminated with PFAS.5 As the issue on PFAS regulation remains unresolved, people of color and low-income residents continue to face the brunt of the consequences, subject to the power of corporations who care little of their interests.

This disparity between people of color and low-income residents and more privileged populations is not limited to the PFAS regulation battle. Poor, black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are not only more likely to depend on polluted water sources, but are

“also more likely to eat fast food meals that come in PFAS packaging, live in rental units with PFAS-laden carpeting.” 3

Hopefully, this trend of prioritizing corporations over underserved populations will not endure. Eventually, victims of profit-driven policies will reach a breaking point, pushing legislators to create policies that protect their interests and their long-awaited human rights.


Edited by: Anne Sacks

Graphic Designed by: Ariha Mehta


References

  1. Altman, L. K. (1985, January 22). Heterosexuals and AIDS: New data examined. The New York Times. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/1985/01/22/science/heterosexuals-and-aids-new-data-examined.html

  2. Rensberger, B. (1986, January 17). AIDS cases in 1985 exceed total of all previous years. The Washington Post. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1986/01/17/aids-cases-in-1985-exceed-total-of-all-previous-years/38c933d7-260c-414b-80f7-0dd282415cc6/

  3. NC Black Alliance. (2021, August 3). Violence in the form of Policy. North Carolina Black Alliance. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://ncblackalliance.org/violence-in-the-form-of-policy/

  4. Sorg, L. (2020, July 6). New research confirms presence of toxic 'forever chemicals' in scores of NC water supplies. NC Policy Watch. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from https://ncpolicywatch.com/2020/07/01/ new-research-confirms-presence-of-toxic-forever-chemicals-in-scores-of-nc-water-supplies/

  5. Sorg, L., Sorg, L., About the author Lisa SorgLisa Sorg, & Sorg, L. S. L. (2022, June 6). At Emotional Committee hearing over Pfas Bill, lawmakers and concerned citizens confront Chemours, business interests. NC Policy Watch. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://ncpolicywatch.com/2022/06/03/at-emotional-committee-hearing-over-pfas-bill-lawmakers-and-concerned-citizens-confront-chemours-business-interests/

  6. NC Department of Environmental Quality. (n.d.). Chemours consent order. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from https://deq.nc.gov/news/key-issues/genx-investigation/chemours-consent-order

  7. DEQ assesses penalties of nearly $200,000 for Chemours violations. NC Department of Environmental Quality. (2021, March 31). Retrieved September 20, 2022, from https://deq.nc.gov/news/press-releases/2021/03/31/deq-assesses-penalties-nearly-200000-chemours-violations

  8. [1] Release: DAQ Assesses Penalty of Over $300,000 for Chemours Violations. NC DEQ. (2021, October 4). Retrieved September 20, 2022, from https://deq.nc.gov/news/press-releases/2021/10/04/release-daq-assesses-penalty-over-300000-chemours-violations


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