In his speech on earth day in April, President Clinton announced that
he was asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the
Department of Justice to formulate "an aggressive investigation of the
inequalities in exposure to environmental hazards."
EPA Administrator Carol Browner testified before Congress May 6, 1993
saying, "We now believe that people of color and low income are
disproportionately affected by some environmental risks--the risk of
living near landfills, municipal waste combustors, or hazardous waste
sites.... I have made environmental justice one of the key policy
themes of my administration. Environmental justice must be woven into
all aspects of EPA operations: rulemaking, permitting, enforcement,
education, hiring, and outreach. Our program offices are expanding
their data collection efforts in communities located near large sources
of pollution in order to help us assess health impacts."
While President Clinton and EPA chief Browner are making speeches about
the importance of "environmental justice," EPA Region 4 in Atlanta has
taken steps to oust a physician who has developed a technique for
identifying disadvantaged neighborhoods threatened by pollution.
Dr. John R. Stockwell--a physician on loan to EPA from the U.S. Public
Health Service since 1987--has been notified that Acting Regional
Administrator Patrick Tobin wants him out of EPA as soon as possible.
Stockwell is fighting the ouster, and has gathered support from
activists across the south who say Stockwell's kind of work is
precisely what the agency should be doing. Pat Bryant, executive
director of the Gulf Coast Tenants Organization in New Orleans says,
"This is an attempt to silence Dr. Stockwell when the only thing he is
guilty of is telling the truth."
Stockwell believes he is being fired for having developed a
computerized mapping system that uses existing data to draw maps of
disadvantaged neighborhoods and the sources of pollution that may be
threatening their health.
When Stockwell was initially recruited into EPA back in 1987, a memo
from Winston Smith, director of the EPA Region 4 division of Air,
Pesticides, and Toxics Management, said, "We respectfully request the
transfer of Commissioned Officer John Robert Stockwell to the
Environmental Protection Agency effective December 13, 1987.... Mr.
Stockwell's medical background combined with many years of experience
in environmental and occupational medicine, public health and
management make him uniquely qualified to provide the immediate
contribution sought by Region IV.
"Mr. Stockwell's expertise is specifically needed in carrying out
health effect initiatives in our Region's Toxic Substances Control Act
(TSCA) Program," Smith's memo said. "The TSCA program has been assigned
one of the highest national priorities by EPA due to the proven
imminent hazard to public health from toxic and hazardous materials.
His immediate appointment to provide technical expertise in solving
these environmental health effect problems will have significant impact
on our needs and program objectives."
According to the ATLANTA JOURNAL AND CONSTITUTION, Stockwell's
performance evaluations from his EPA supervisors have consistently
included remarks such as "Recognized by peers as source of exceptional
work," and "admirable work ethics," and "a source of high quality
Stockwell became known internationally as an expert on pollution in low
income and minority communities. When Senator James Sasser (D-Tenn.)
asked EPA Regional Administrator Patrick Tobin to study pollution in
Chattanooga, Tennessee, Tobin assigned the task to Stockwell.
Stockwell had conducted a pilot study of Mobile Bay, Alabama,
developing his computerized mapping technique for pinpointing
neighborhoods at risk. He was a logical choice to study Chattanooga.
On September 16, 1993--after Stockwell's preliminary report on
Chattanooga was completed--Patrick Tobin issued a memo saying, "Dr.
Stockwell's specialty is preventive medicine, and he has been employed
in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regional office since
"We have analyzed our needs for this specialty and have determined we
no longer have a need for Captain Stockwell's services," Tobin's memo
said. "Additionally, we have not been able to identify a need for
Captain Stockwell within other EPA offices. Pursuant to the Memorandum
of Understanding between EPA and the PHS, we request that you initiate
action to return Captain Stockwell to the PHS or other agency which has
a need for this specialty," Tobin's memo said.
Stockwell's final study of Chattanooga has still not been released,
though we have obtained a copy of the draft report. The draft report
identifies areas of Chattanooga where poor people live and where major
industries are releasing large quantities of toxic materials on a daily
basis. Stockwell's present supervisor at EPA, Bruce Miller, spent more
than an hour on the phone with us trying to explain why Patrick Tobin
wants to oust John Stockwell from EPA. But after an hour we still had
not heard a single plausible reason. The closest thing to a real reason
we heard was this: Miller says one of Stockwell's recommendations in
his report was controversial and did not fit EPA's mission. The
specific recommendation was, "Given the POTENTIAL exposure [from
chemical releases previously described] further study is recommended to
determine whether this population is experiencing any increased
environmental health risk." [Emphasis in the original.] So far as we
were able to determine, it was this conclusion that put John Stockwell
on the firing line. It is the only conclusion Bruce Miller would say
EPA Region 4 does not go along with. Miller says flatly, "This is not
the kind of study we do, trying to link specific diseases to specific
chemical exposures." We pointed out to him that EPA scientists
routinely publish studies linking pollutants such as lead and
particulates (soot) to specific human diseases, but Miller simply
repeated that EPA does not do this kind of work and Stockwell would be
better placed in another agency. We pointed out that Stockwell's report
did not even recommend that EPA should do the health studies--Stockwell
simply said, "further study is recommended," not suggesting which
agency should do the study. Miller continued to repeat that EPA does
not do health studies linking specific chemicals to specific diseases
and that Stockwell would be better placed somewhere else. Miller gave
us permission to interview Stockwell, which we did.
Stockwell believes he is being punished for having published his
findings about the situation in Chattanooga and other communities: "I
found a triple whammy effect," he told us. "The greatest quantities of
the most toxic chemicals are being released precisely in those
communities that can least afford to cope with that type of pollution:
the least educated, the poor, the non-white," he said. In sum, Dr.
Stockwell believes he is being fired for having documented what others
call "environmental racism" in Chattanooga--the placement of polluting
facilities in neighborhoods that are poor, non-white and politically
Given President Clinton's speech on earth day and Carol Browner's
testimony before Congress May 6, this hardly seems a controversial
conclusion--certainly not one controversial enough to get a respected
physician fired. But that appears to be what's going on in Region 4 in
EPA, where environmental racism may indeed still be alive and well.
If you would like to help fight John Stockwell's dismissal from EPA,
contact Connie Tucker, Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and
Social Justice, P.O. Box 10518, Atlanta, Ga. 30310; phone (404) 243-
5229; fax: (404) 243-4028.
Other Developments in Environmental Justice
On November 4, 1993, U.S. EPA formally announced creation of a National
Environmental Justice Advisory Council to "provide advice,
consultations and make recommendations... directed at solving
environmental equity problems." EPA is actively seeking suggestions for
candidates for the Advisory Council; if you have names to suggest, send
them to Clarice E. Gaylord, Director, Office of Environmental Equity,
Mail Code 3103, U.S. EPA, 401 M Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20460. For
further information, including copies of the Advisory Council's
Charter, phone Mustafa Ali at (202) 260-6357. To suggest a candidate,
you must provide name, occupation, position, organization, address, and
phone number, and the candidate must submit a resume of their
background, experience, and other relevant information. The deadline
for suggesting names is December 10, 1993--next Friday.
Feb. 10-12, 1994, the National Institute of Environmental Health
Sciences (NIEHS) is sponsoring an important conference called
"Symposium on Health Research & Needs to Ensure Environmental Justice."
The symposium will focus on "reinventing government to ensure
environmental justice," including community participation/empowerment;
federal agency policies, research agendas, and practices to ensure
environmental justice; interagency coordination; new models for
prevention and intervention. Key health issues to be discussed include
sensitive populations; respiratory diseases; lead poisoning; hazardous
waste; pesticide exposure; workplace hazards; and Superfund site
Limited funds are available for financial assistance to help people
attend this important conference. For more information, phone (919)
541-2637 and leave your name, address, phone number, and any questions
you might have.
 Carol Browner, "Statement of Carol M. Browner, Administrator, U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, before the Government Operations
Committee, United States House of Representatives," May 6, 1993, pgs.
 Scott Bronstein, "EPA 'muzzling' doctor for fighting environmental
racism?" ATLANTA JOURNAL/ATLANTA CONSTITUTION Nov. 11, 1993, pg. A4.
 Peter Montague, Traci Darnell and Brian Hunt, YEARNING TO BREATHE
FREE; A CITIZENS' PERSPECTIVE ON ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN SOUTH
CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE (Atlanta, Ga.: Greenpeace, 1991).
Descriptor terms: environmental racism; environmental justice; poverty;
epa; john stockwell; pat bryant; chattanooga, tn; tn; mobile bay, al;
al; air pollution; water pollution; tri; pollution prevention; national
environmental justice advisory board; niehs; respiratory disease; lead;
superfund; pesticides; occupational safety and health;