Earth Month continued Wednesday with the third part of its Brown Bag Series featuring a 30-minute lecture on environmental justice.

The guest speaker was Sara Malley, a doctoral student at UT in the sociology program, who also teaches classes on social justice and social change. Malley said her lecture would not only focus on environmental justice but also injustice.

“We’re all impacted by environmental hazards in some way, shape or form,” Malley said. “However, research has shown that the largest groups affected are people in lower-income populations or minority populations. They are disproportionately affected by these hazards.”

The focus of Malley’s lecture was examining several case studies in which various companies and organizations harmed the environments in these types of communities.

The first case she noted was the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, N.Y. In the 1950s, the Niagara Falls School Board purchased land from Hooker Chemical. Hooker Chemical clearly stated that they had disposed of 21,000 tons of toxic waste in the area and signed an agreement absolving them from liability. The school board purchased the land anyway, and Love Canal was soon built.

Malley said that suspicions among the townspeople arose when they started noticing the toxic chemicals coming from the ground brought on by heavy rainfall and an alarming increase in birth defects.

She also discussed a case she investigated herself, where the Marsh Folk Elementary School in Raleigh County, W.Va. was less than 300 yards away from a coal loading silo and processing plant. Behind the coal silo and plant was a dam holding back 2.8 billion gallons of toxic coal sludge.

After a private donation and lobbying were made, the people of Raleigh County are getting a new, relocated elementary school.

Malley believes that a big reason that companies commonly place factories and waste dump sites near lower-income communities is because there is less chance of local backlash.

“Having these things in a community will lower property value, so you’re not going to see this in an upper class or even upper-middle class community,” Malley said. “A lot of times (companies) are not even going to attempt (to construct hazard sites in upper class communities). They’ll go to the place of least resistance.”

Likewise, there is little chance of repercussion for any hazardous activity. Malley said that in case studies and her own experience, she’s seen companies and local governments dismiss studies and data showing that the environment and its residents are being harmed. In cases where a company is penalized, Malley said the penalty is little more than “a slap on the wrist or a fine for $100.”

But as a whole, Malley said Tennessee is doing well combating environmental injustice, noting the many organizations protesting mountaintop removal.

As far as improving the fight against environmental injustice, Malley said the biggest thing people could do is help other communities in their fights even if the environmental hazards won’t affect their own homes.

“People don’t want this in their backyard, of course,” Malley said, “but it shouldn’t be someone else’s backyard.”

Malley’s presentation was part of the Earth Month Brown Bag Series, which runs from April 9-13. Each lecture is 30 minutes long and is in the UC Room 226. The series and Earth Month are both sponsored by the Office of Sustainability.

Courtney Washburn, sustainability outreach coordinator, said each lecture covers a very different topic within the subject of sustainable environments. Even the lecturers come from many different backgrounds.

“We have a diverse array of topics,” Washburn said. “We knew we wanted to have a variety to reach as many people as possible. We have speakers who are students, grad students and professors all with some background in sustainability.”

Thursday’s lecture will feature Grace Loy and a discussion on “Alternative Fuel Use in East Tennessee.” Friday’s lecture will feature John Nolt and “Non-anthropeocentric Environmental Ethics.” Those attending are encouraged to bring a lunch.