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Hardcover | Out of Print | 368 pp. | 6 x 9 in | July 2010 | ISBN: 9780262014403
Paperback | $24.95 Trade | £19.95 | 368 pp. | 6 x 9 in | September 2012 | ISBN: 9780262518178
eBook | $17.95 Trade | September 2012 | ISBN: 9780262290067
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Sacrifice Zones

The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States
Foreword by Phil Brown


Across the United States, thousands of people, most of them in low-income or minority communities, live next to heavily polluting industrial sites. Many of them reach a point at which they say “Enough is enough.” After living for years with poisoned air and water, contaminated soil, and pollution-related health problems, they start to take action--organizing, speaking up, documenting the effects of pollution on their neighborhoods.

In Sacrifice Zones, Steve Lerner tells the stories of twelve communities, from Brooklyn to Pensacola, that rose up to fight the industries and military bases causing disproportionately high levels of chemical pollution. He calls these low-income neighborhoods “sacrifice zones.” And he argues that residents of these sacrifice zones, tainted with chemical pollutants, need additional regulatory protections.

Sacrifice Zones goes beyond the disheartening statistics and gives us the voices of the residents themselves, offering compelling portraits of accidental activists who have become grassroots leaders in the struggle for environmental justice and details the successful tactics they have used on the fenceline with heavy industry.

About the Author

Steve Lerner is the author of Eco-Pioneers: Practical Visionaries Solving Today’s Environmental Problems (1998) and Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor (2006), both published by the MIT Press.

Table of Contents

  • Sacrifice Zones
  • Sacrifice Zones
  • The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States
  • Steve Lerner
  • foreword by Phil Brown
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • © 2010
  • Stephen D. Lerner
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please e-mail
  • This book was set in Sabon by Graphic Composition, Inc. Printed on recycled paper and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Lerner, Steve.
  • Sacrifice zones: the front lines of toxic chemical exposure in the United States / Steve Lerner.
  •  p. cm.
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01440-3 (hardcover : alk. paper)
  • 1. Environmental toxicology—United States—Case studies. 2. Chemical spills—Health aspects—United States—Case studies. 3. Hazardous substances—Health aspects—United States—Case studies. 4. Hazardous waste sites—United States—Case studies. 5. Pollution—United States—Case studies. I. Title.
  • RA1226.L47  2010
  • 363.738'420973—dc22
  • 2009051289
  • [to come]
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • For Sonya
  • Contents
  • Foreword ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Introduction 1
  • I Partial Victories
  • 1 Ocala, Florida:
  • Community Blanketed by “Black Snow” from Neighboring Charcoal Factory 19
  • 2 Pensacola, Florida:
  • Health Problems near “Mount Dioxin” Require Mass Relocation 41
  • II Contaminated Air
  • 3 Port Arthur, Texas:
  • Public Housing Residents Breathe Contaminated Air from Nearby Refineries and Chemical Plants 73
  • 4 Corpus Christi, Texas:
  • Hillcrest Residents Exposed to Benzene in Neighborhood Next to Refinery 99
  • 5 Addyston, Ohio:
  • The Plastics Plant Next Door 119
  • 6 Marietta, Ohio:
  • Steel-Hardening Plant Spews Tons of Manganese into River Valley Town’s Air 137
  • III Contaminated Water
  • 7 Tallevast, Florida:
  • Rural Residents Live Atop Groundwater Contaminated by High-Tech Weapons Company 157
  • 8 San Antonio, Texas:
  • Contamination from Kelly Air Force Base Suspected of Causing Sickness and Death in Adjacent Latino Community 177
  • IV Contaminated Soil
  • 9 Daly City, California:
  • Midway Village: Public Housing Built on Contaminated Soil 195
  • 10 St. Lawrence Island, Alaska:
  • Yupik Eskimos Face Contaminated Water and Traditional Food Supplies near Former U.S. Military Bases 219
  • 11 Greenpoint, New York:
  • Giant Oil Spill Spreads beneath Brooklyn Neighborhood 247
  • V An Ongoing Puzzle: Disease Clusters Possibly Caused by Multiple Sources of Pollution
  • 12 Fallon, Nevada:
  • Largest U.S. Pediatric Leukemia Cluster near Naval Air Station and Tungsten Smelter 267
  • Conclusion 297
  • Notes 315
  • Index 339


“A significant complement to three decades of environmental justice research; it provides irrefutable empirical evidence that not all American communities are created equal.”—Robert D. Bullard, Environmental Health Perspectives


“This is a compelling treatise on why the dominant environmental protection apparatus should be overhauled to emphasize prevention, precaution, and equal protection. The book is a significant complement to three decades of environmental justice research that provides irrefutable empirical evidence that all American communities are not created equal.”
Robert D. Bullard, Ware Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Director, Environmental Justice Resource Center, Clark Atlanta University
“Easy to read, compelling, and hard to put down. The stories are important, have not been told, and need to be recounted in a public way. This book will give motivation to some, solace to others, and consternation to organizations that are exposed.”
Peter L. DeFur, Virginia Commonwealth University
“These case histories from fenceline America are compelling, beautifully detailed stories that integrate authentic voices from grassroots struggles for environmental justice. Lerner captures the nuance of these community struggles, and posits the common paradigm linking these twelve communities as he heralds the pain, the passion, the human cost of life and death in America's sacrifice zones.”
Peggy M. Shepard, Executive Director and cofounder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, New York City
Sacrifice Zones is the compelling companion work to Diamond, Steve Lerner's landmark study of a small Louisiana town coping with the ravages of pollution from the factories surrounding it. In this book, Lerner travels to a dozen low-income, mostly minority communities around the country where the pressure to protect good-paying jobs takes a grim and painful toll on human health. As he did with such skill in Diamond, Lerner lets the people living, working, and in too many cases, dying from pollution in these 'fenceline communities' do the story telling. What the reader will be left with is shame and outrage that the richest country in the world has allowed entire communities to be sacrificed to pollution. But I believe you will also come away from this book with fresh resolve that our fellow citizens will not continue to be forgotten casualties of commerce.”
Ken Cook, President, Environmental Working Group