Nearly 50,000 people live within two miles of a major trash incinerator in Hartford. In a few months, that garbage plant is slated to close. And as officials decide what’s next for the key piece of riverfront land, debate is focusing on a decades-old issue: environmental justice.
Think of environmental justice as environmentalism meets civil rights. And for Hartford, the movement historically focused on a big question, said Edith Pestana, administrator of the state’s environmental justice program.
“Why should I take your garbage?” she asked. “Is that what you think of us?”
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that Connecticut burns more of its trash than any other state in the nation. And state data show that trash-to-energy facilities, the spots where garbage is burned, are often zoned in poor areas with minority populations.
Those zoning decisions can have health impacts. A 2020 study from the Connecticut Health Foundation found that Black and Hispanic children in Connecticut were about four-to-five times as likely as white kids to go to the emergency room for asthma.
Pestana remembers when Hartford hosted an active landfill that became a flashpoint in the city’s environmental justice movement. First constructed in the 1940s, the spot took in garbage from surrounding towns, and it was a place “that had odors, that people had to deal with where they couldn’t open their windows in the summer,” Pestana said.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin recalls the history.