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Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States Paperback – September 14, 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (September 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262518171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262518178
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #155,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This book will break your heart. Lerner, who plumbed the depths of Louisiana’s suffering in Diamond (2005), focuses on how 12 American communities are affected by their close proximity to polluted industrial sites. The facts speak for themselves as he recounts data collected in legal cases and interviews with dozens of people from each locale, and you cannot help but become emotionally involved in each outcome. The clear message is that low-income neighborhoods (the “sacrifice zones” of the title) suffer disproportionately from industrial toxins, and it is hard to argue the point after reading about what everyone from Exxon Mobil to the Department of Defense (ironically the biggest polluter in America) has done to its residential neighbors. In most cases residents do not want industry to go away, they want it to abide by existing regulations and for regulators to do their jobs. This is the heart-breaking part, because Lerner exposes just how easily rules are ignored. One might want this book to be easy to ignore, but instead, it’s unforgettable. And devastating. --Colleen Mondor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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)

"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

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Format: Hardcover
In "Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental; Justice in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor," Steve Lerner chronicled life in a segregated town where the poor lived cheek-to-jowl with two nasty industrial plants. It's a story of abuse, struggle and triumph --- in the end, a grassroots campaign led by a local schoolteacher forced Shell Oil to buy up many afflicted homes.

"Sacrifice Zones" brings stories like that back home --- to a dozen communities that were knowingly polluted by American businesses. It's a repetitive book: suffering, more suffering, government indifference, then the residents fight back. It's hardly an even fight. The companies have squads of lawyers on staff. Because they often provide the only jobs for miles, they have local governments in their pockets. It's oh-so-hard to prove that the filth on the once-white sheets hanging from the clotheslines of the poor came from a polluter's smokestack. And the victories are bittersweet --- activists don't always see the fruits of their work, having used precious days from their surely shortened lives to organize their communities.

Ocala, Florida: "black snow" from a charcoal factory. A city run by five white people. Activists who presented filthy bed sheets to the city council. A plant without afterburners in its smokestacks. The company closed the plant and tore down the smokestacks before they could be tested for pollutants.

Port Arthur, Texas: 15.5 million pounds of pollutants released in a single year by a refinery owned by Shell Oil and Saudi Aramco. (Once the plant released 9 tons while children were waiting for school buses.)

On and on the dishonor roll goes --- Addyston, Ohio and Daly City, California and San Antonio and Greenpoint, New York. You get the idea fast.
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Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States
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