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The Most Industrialized City

Alyssa Schukar | Indiana, United States

BP expanded its refinery to the northern boundary of Marktown, a 100-year-old workers village in East Chicago, in 2013. Well within a disaster blast zone, the neighborhood is a liability for BP. The firm has offered between $4,545 and $30,000 for the properties, which is not enough to buy an equivalent home, especially on a fixed income. Residents say they have felt more vulnerable with each of the nearly 20 buildings demolished in the past year.

American industry disproportionately affects the health of low-income communities. East Chicago, Indiana — known as the country's "most industrialized municipality" during the 19th century — offers a glimpse into environmental injustices plaguing the rust belt.

Nearly 80 percent of the city is zoned for heavy industries that pollute the air, water, and soil.

Last year, 1,200 East Chicagoans learned that their children’s blood carried poisonous levels of lead and that their homes were built on an old lead smelter site.

Nearby, British Petroleum is buying and demolishing homes surrounded by its massive oil refinery, which annually produces 2.2 million tons of petcoke, a black dust linked to higher rates of cancer and respiratory problems.

President Donald Trump has proposed massive cuts to the EPA, including its environmental justice program, which reduces the burden of pollution on poor communities. Lead cleanups, environmental protection enforcement, and restoration projects are expected to be reduced or abandoned.

In the name of corporate profit, industries that once bolstered citizens’ economic futures now threaten their existences.

I grew up in the Great Plains, where I spent most of my childhood exploring the woods surrounding my family’s home. In this unaltered environment, I learned to find harmony in the natural world. Old things make way for new. Spring brings rebirth and possibility.

Photography opened my eyes to the human condition and the ways that we have modified that natural order. My work focuses on the fragile relationship between our surroundings and individual experiences.

Though humanity’s role in climate change has been scientifically proven, it's still debated by leaders who prioritize short-term profitability over sustainability.

This broken system puts industry and financial gain above the well-being of Americans. As the income gap broadens, poor people have fewer opportunities to choose where they live. More of our neighbors will be poisoned by the air they breathe, the water they drink and the ground where children play.

I hope these images create empathy and an understanding that we must act to protect our fellow citizens today and to safeguard our environment for future generations.



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