Example of Environmental Racial Discrimination


Markell Williams, 11, has been hospitalized five times this year for seizures, which his mother believes are linked to a chemical spill near his hometown of Eight Mile, Ala. (Meggan Haller/For The Times)

Picture this: Two communities poisoned by the same toxic chemical because of malfunctioning pipelines owned by the same gas company.1 People in Porter Ranch, California were temporarily relocated and their homes decontaminated at no charge. Residents of Eight Mile, Alabama were left to survive on their own, sickened and unable to leave tainted homes. The only difference? Porter Ranch is primarily white and affluent, while Eight Mile is predominantly Black and poor. Why is Sempra Energy getting away with racial discrimination when it comes to answering for their pollution problem?

Tell Sempra Energy: Relocate the residents of Eight Mile, Alabama until their homes can be restored, and compensate them for the harm caused by mercaptan exposure

In both cases, the communities were exposed to mercaptan, a chemical that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports can depress the central nervous system and diminish respiratory function.2 More than 1,300 residents of Eight Mile have been suffering from severe symptoms of mercaptan exposure, including nosebleeds, seizures, headache, dizziness, staggering gait, nausea and vomiting, since 2008.3 Sempra Energy has settled some individual cases for undisclosed amounts, but left the Alabama community as a whole poisoned and ignored.

Meanwhile, when Porter Ranch was poisoned in 2015, Sempra Energy acted quickly, fixing the problem in under a year. They paid more than $500 million to temporarily relocate about 8,000 Porter Ranch families and clean more than 1,700 homes. With so many subpar and faulty natural gas storage systems located near residential areas, it’s only a matter of time until another community is poisoned.4 Because mercaptan is not classified as a hazardous chemical, the EPA does not have jurisdiction to intervene in these cases. But that doesn’t mean Sempra Energy should get away with ignoring damage caused by their chemical spills.5

Another Black community poisoned by corporate greed and abandoned by the government. We can’t let their story be ignored. Sign now.

We’ve long known that pollution takes a greater toll on the health of Black communities, who are often left with few resources or recourse. Black children suffer disproportionately from asthma, and are seven to eight times more likely to die of asthma as white children.6 Communities of color face nearly 40% more exposure to toxic air pollution than white communities.7 Environmental racism continues to place minorities near pollution and other environmental hazards.8 Sempra Energy is counting on environmental racism and the apathy of the public towards the suffering of Black folks to get away with their crime. We can’t let that happen.

Until justice is real,

–Brandi, Rashad, Arisha, Bernard, Anika, Corina, Evan, Jade, and the rest of the ColorOfChange team


  1. “‘We cannot breathe:’ A poor Alabama town has lived with the rotten egg stench of gas for 8 years.” The Los Angeles Times, October 15th, 2016.
  2. “USC researchers look at long-term health effects of Porter Ranch gas leak.” USC News, January 26, 2016.
  3. “READ: 8 Years After Chemical Leak, Residents Still Pushing for Compensation.” Colorlines, October 17th, 2016.
  4. “REPORT: America’s Natural Gas Storage Situation is Subpar, Unsafe.” Colorlines, October 19th, 2016.
  5. “8 Mile residents seek state & federal help with odor.” Local 15, June 20th, 2016.
  6. “Clinton accurately says black children with asthma have 500% higher mortality rate.” Politifact, August 11th, 2015.
  7. “‘Environmental Injustice’: Minorities Face Nearly 40% More Exposure to Toxic Air Pollution.'” Common Dreams, April 16th, 2014.
  8. “Pollution is segregated, too.” The Washington Post, April 15th, 2014.

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