< Professionalism

NIMBY (or Nimby), an acronym for Not In My Back Yard, describes the negative reaction of community members towards projects that will negatively impact them if placed near their homes. Such projects include highways, railways, airports, landfills, hazardous waste facilities, power plants, chemical plants, housing developments, tall buildings, wind turbines, prisons, and numerous other facilities. These facilities often benefit a large group of people with their services; however they negatively impact a smaller population of citizens who live near the facilities. When citizens fight against proposed facilities near their homes, proponents of these facilities dub them "Nimbyists."

This analysis will focus particularly on hazardous waste facilities and their impact on minority groups, particularly as these cases relate to Nimbyism and Environmental Justice.


BKK LandfillEdit

The term NIMBY was coined by Emilie Travel Livezey in ”Hazardous waste,” [1] an article published in 1980 in The Christian Science Monitor. Livezey states that “people are now thoroughly alert to the dangers of chemical wastes. The very thought of having even a secure landfill anywhere near them is anathema to most Americans today.” [2] Livezey’s assertion of the American attitude towards potentially harmful landfills being located near their homes is best exemplified by the BKK Landfill case.

The BKK Landfill, located in West Covina, California, was built in 1962. During operation, the 583-acre site received over 84 Million gallons of industrial and household waste, making it California’s largest hazardous waste] management facility.[3] At the time that the landfill began operation, West Covina, which is 20 miles outside of Los Angeles, California, was mostly undeveloped. However, by the 1980’s there were over 40,000 residents living within a 1 mile radius of the landfill. Awareness of potential health hazards, particularly exposure to carcinogens, along with trash spills, truck accidents and foul odors raised concerns. In 1980, 7,532 residents signed a petition to close the facility.[4] Soon after social activists organized protest groups to picket the entrance of the facility and organize a local ballot initiative.

Inquiries into the environmental impacts of the landfill followed local resistance. The Department of Toxic Substance Control, a department within the California Environmental Protection Agency, studied the BKK Landfill in 1980. The study concluded that the hazardous liquids would not pose a threat as long as they were properly contained. Furthermore, the University of Southern California’s medical school conducted a risk assessment study in 1980 to investigate the incidence of cancer in the community surrounding the landfill. The research indicated that there was no statistically significant increase in the rate of cancers.[5]

Even with evidence that the site did not produce harm to the surrounding community, resistance did not stop until the facility was shut down. In early 1984, the congressional representative for West Covina demanded that United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) terminate the operation of the toxic waste disposal site at once.[6] An inspection by US EPA in 1984 found underground migration of liquid waste and its by-products in every direction out of the facility [7] The US EPA and the California Department of Health and Safety prohibited receipt of further liquid wastes and approved plans to dig more wells to prevent contaminated ground water from leaking [8] In 1986, the site was prohibited from receiving hazardous waste and in 1996 the landfill closed. Today, the site is a center for community activity, containing a “Big League Dream” sports complex, public golf course and other commercial development [9]

The Warren County PCB LandfillEdit

In 1978, a black tank trucker illegally dumped over 30,000 gallons of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) –tainted fluids along 240 miles of roads through 14 counties of North Carolina. [10] PCBs are man-made organic chemicals that can cause cancer, and adversely affect the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. [11] PCBs were so dangerous that they were banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1979. The PCB laced liquids came from the Ward Transformer Company in Raleigh, North Carolina. [12] The company provided various services for transformers, switchgears and other similar kinds of electrical equipment.[13] State officials calmed that the dumpers were attempting to evade new EPA regulations that made waste disposal more transparent and costly.

In 1978, North Carolina Governor James B. Hunt decided to bury the contaminated soil near the community of Afton located in Warren County, NC.[14] In December of 1978, the Hunt Administration annouced that “public sentiment would not deter the state from burying the PCBs in Warren County,"[15] Local citizens later deemed the site "Hunt's Dump." Of the 90 sites that were considered, Warren County had the highest percentage of African-Americans (more than 84%) and ranked 97th in per capita income out of the 100 counties in NC.[16] In Science for the People, Ken Geiser and Gerry Waneck described the Warren County PCB siting decision:

"The site at Afton was not even scientifically the most suitable. The water table of Afton, North Carolina, (site of the landfill) is only 5-10 feet below the surface, and the residents of the community derive all of their drinking water from local wells. Only the most optimistic could believe that the Afton landfill will not eventually leach into the groundwater. Unless a more permanent solution is found, it will only be a matter of time before the PCBs end up in these people's wells."[17]

In 1982, over 500 citizen of Warren County began to protest the landfill.[18] The protests were led by local residents Ken and Deborah Ferruccio. They were joined by organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the United Church of Christ (UCC).[19] The protests spurred District of Columbia Delegate, Walter E. Fauntory to begin the 1983 Study of Hazardous Waste Landfills And Their Correlation With Racial And Economic Status Of Surrounding Communities by the U.S. General Accounting Office. The study found that four out of five hazardous waste landfills in the South were in impoverished, minority communities.[20] Demonstrations also inspired the UCC to create a Commission for Racial Justice. In 1987, the Commission produced a report, Toxic Waste and Race in the United States: A National Report on the Racial and Socioeconomic Characteristics of Communities with Hazardous Waste Sites, which concluded that race and ethnicity were the most significant factors in determining where to sit environmentally hazardous facilities. A follow-up report confirmed that a disproportionate environmental burden on communities of color had grown since the 1987 report.[21]

The protests and subsequent reports attracted national media attention. Despite this public dissent, the landfill was still built.[22] Soon after its construction, activist organization insisted that the site must be decontaminated.[23] A life-long Afton citizen remarked that, “If I drink two glasses of this water my stomach will get upset right away” and that he believed the the landfill clean-up was not a priority because, “...we're poor and black, that’s the number one reason.”[24] Pressure from these organizations force the Hunt Administration to begin decontamination in 2001. Clean-up was completed in 2004 and cost the state 17.1 million dollars, 26 years after the crisis.[25]

United States PolicyEdit

The environmental justice movement was sparked by the Warren County PCB Landfill case. Environmental Justice refers to the movement to end Environmental Racism through fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people when implementing environmental policies.Citizens of Afton carried more of the burden of a hazardous material than the rest of the county. [26] The community experienced Environmental Racism, a term that refers to any policy or regulation that negatively affects minority communities disproportionately. Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, an prominent member of both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the United Church of Christ, coined this phrase in the 1980's in the midst of the Warren County case. Environmental Justice refers to the movement to end Environmental Racism through fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people when implementing environmental policies. Environmental Justice is intended to prevent inequitable environmental burdens.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ensures that all United States agencies which receive federal funds practice nondiscrimination. However, after the Warren County case garnered publicity, it was clear that further action was necessary to ensure environmental justice. On February 11, 1994, former President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898: Federal Actions To Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Population. This order stated that “each Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.” [27] The order included a timeline for development of an interagency working group and intragency regulations.

Environmental Protection AgencyEdit

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leads the interagency working group outlined by Executive Order 12898. The working group meets monthly and is comprised of members of 15 federal agencies and several White House offices. The EPA also sponsors grants and programs to promote Environmental Justice on a national, regional and local level. [28]

Department of TransportationEdit

Responding to the Environmental Justice movement and Executive Order 12898, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) issued the Order to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. The DOT considers Environmental Justice in all aspects of decision making, from early-stage policy and planning through construction and maintenance. The order persists through federal agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration, state DOTs, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and transit providers, such as the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority. [29]

Ethical Implications of NIMBYismEdit

Contrasting the BKK Landfill and the Warren County case, environmental racism is apparent. In the affluent community surrounding the BKK Landfill, political leaders and government organizations reacted to the resident's concerns. However, in the poor community in Warren County, action was not taken by the government for years. The disproportionate environmental burden placed on low-income, minority communities is due to the disparity in access to political power and decision making.[30]

These cases were extreme scenarios, dealing with the health conditions of the residents surrounding the facilities. Many other NIMBY cases relate to quality of life, for instance the a new highway will produce noise and traffic and might lower property values, but will not significantly impact the health of nearby residents. These cases give "Nimbyists" a bad reputation. However, landfill and hazardous waste cases can impact the health of the Nimbyists who oppose them. This begs serious ethical questions, mainly, where to build these facilities and who to affect.

Is Environmental Justice the Solution?Edit

Environmental Justice policies aim to evenly distribute the environmental burden of all projects. Further researchers might consider studying the effectiveness of these policies in their implementation with more recent cases. The Environmental Justice movement is moving toward and end to Environmental Racism, but it does not eliminate the effects of Nimbyism, just redistributes them.


  2. Emilie Travel Livezey, “Hazardous waste,” The Christian Science Monitor, November 6, 1980
  4. Dupont, Baxter & Theodore, Environmental Management:Problems and Solutions, 1998
  6. Dupont, Baxter & Theodore, Environmental Management:Problems and Solutions, 1998
  17. Geiser and Waneck, "PCBs and Warren County," p. 17.