Environmental racism is a term used to describe environmental injustice that occurs in practice and in policy within a radicalized context.
In 1982, the term was coined by Benjamin Chavis, who was the then executive director of the United Church of Christ (UCC) Commission for Racial Justice, in response to the dumping of hazardous PCB waste in a town in Warren County, North Carolina. The UCC and US General Accounting Office (GAO) report on this case in NC brought public attention to the strong relation between locations of hazardous waste sites and poor minority neighborhoods. Early activists in environmental racism, Chavis and Robert Bullard pointed out institutionalized racism stemming from government and corporate policies that led to environmental racism. Practices like redlining, zoning, and colorblind adaptation planning, and factors including the lack of opposition from residents to waste facilities, lack of mobility, and poverty all contribute to environmental racism.
The acknowledgement of environmental racism prompted the environmental justice social movement that began in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States. Although environmental racism has been historically tied to the environmental justice movement, throughout the years the term has dissociated more and more from the environmental justice movement. In response to cases of environmental racism, grassroots organizations and campaigns have brought more attention to environmental racism in policy making and emphasize the importance of having input from minorities in policy making.
On the international level, practices that have been described as environmentally racist include the exportation of hazardous wastes to developing countries, with lax environmental policies, safety practices (pollution havens), and much of the barriers to opposition that minority populations experience in the US.