The Department of Justice announced Friday that it was launching an environmental justice investigation into Houston, Texas, concerning illegal dumping, including bodies and medical waste, that officials say is fouling the city’s Black and Latino neighborhoods.
The investigation, led by the Civil Rights Division, “will examine whether the City responds to requests for municipal services, including in response to illegal dumping, in a manner that discriminates against Black and Latino Houston residents in violation of federal civil rights laws,” the department said in a press release.
At a news conference Friday, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division outlined the severity of illegal dumping: “Illegal dumpsites not only attract rodents, mosquitos and other vermin that pose health risks, but they can also contaminate surface water and impact proper drainage, making areas more susceptible to flooding.”
Other items dumped in the neighborhoods include mattresses, appliances, furniture, tires and even vandalized ATMs, Clarke said.
“Illegal dumpsites can raise significant concerns regarding public health and safety, property values, and quality of life,” said Jennifer Lowery, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas. “We look forward to working with the Civil Rights Division to ensure the city of Houston is in compliance with its federal civil rights obligations.”
The Office of Environmental Justice was created in May. Its focus, according to The Associated Press, is “fence-line communities” in cities that have been exposed to pollutants from industrial sites.
“This investigation exemplifies the department’s commitment to alleviating disproportionate environmental burdens borne all too often by communities of color, low-income communities and tribal communities,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s environment and natural resources division.