EiJ Photo Essay: EJ Co-Lab, Eastern NC, USA

View essay

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

Dana Powell, Rebecca Witter, Sherri White-Williamson, Donna Chavis, Danielle Melvin Koonce, Jeff Currie, and Mac Legerton. 

November 2021

EnviroInjustice: Building a Global Record

EJ Co-Lab Eastern North Carolina

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

1. What is the setting of this case? What are its assets? 

This case is set in rural Sampson County, North Carolina. The assets are the academic partnerships, commitment of the community members and EJCAN board. 

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

2. What environmental threats are there in this setting?

The area has concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), the largest landfill in the state, and an Enviva wood pellet processing plant.

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

3. What intersecting factors -- social, cultural, political, technological, ecological -- contribute to environmental health vulnerability and injustice in this setting?

This is a primarily rural community with an economy revolving around agribusiness. The political climate is such that the political decisions in the area are made based upon the agribusiness economic base. The large number of poultry and swine CAFOs, deforestation to support wood pellet production, and the largest landfill in the state all located in or near communities of color and/or low-income communities creates more health vulnerability for communities already suffering higher levels of health issues.

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

4. Who are stakeholders, what are their characteristics, and what are their perceptions of the problems?

The stakeholders are the community members, They are generally communities of color. They all perceive that they are being selected because of where they live and who they are. There are also farmworkers who are impacted by the communities in which they live and their occupations. Language barriers sometimes exist as well.

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

5. What have different stakeholder groups done (or not done) in response to environmental problems in this setting?

Stakeholders have spoken with the press, become plaintiffs in nuisance lawsuits, participated in public hearings and comment periods conducted by the NC Dept. of Environmental Quality; and appeared before elected and appointed officials. 

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

6. How have environmental problems in this setting been reported on by media, environmental groups, companies and government agencies?

Media has reported on these issues periodically over the years. However, in the past three years there has been more reporting of these conditions. Since the partnership between Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy to form Align RNG to produce biogas the intensity in the reporting has increased. Some environmental groups have helped to bring more attention to the issue. Companies are generally interested in profits and push back against any effort to change their influence. Government agencies have generally not been helpful as they are more focused on supporting the polluters.

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

7. What local actions would reduce environmental vulnerability and injustice in this setting?

Environmental education is a first step. Local residents need more options for employment and the economic development decisions should focus more on the impact to the community of industries relocating to the area rather than a perceived economic benefit. Different political decisions would help the injustice in this setting as well.

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

What extra-local actions (at state, national or international levels) would reduce environmental vulnerability and injustice in this setting and similar settings?

All solutions that portend to reduce pollution and lessen the impacts of climate change should be considered in the context of who is most affected/impacted by the alleged solution. At the end of that chain in most instances is a fenceline community or other impacted community. There should always be a full analysis of any proposed decision to assure that no one will be harmed by the proposed solution.

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

9. What kinds of data and research would be useful in efforts to characterize and address environmental threats in this setting and similar settings?

Data is lacking on community impacts. The agribusiness industry collects data but is not required to share that data. Air and water (surface and groundwater) monitoring is needed. There is also a need to map water and sewer infrastructure in the county to determine where the most need exists and how to change decision making to assure that the areas of most need are priority for funding. This data should be available to make the case for more and adequate monitoring and analysis. Analysis should information decision makers of whether additional legislation or regulation is required to protect the most vulnerable communities.

EiJ Case Study: EJ CO-LAB Eastern NC, USA

10. What intersecting injustices -- data, economic, epistemic, gender, health, infrastructure, intergenerational, media, procedural, racial, reproductive -- contribute to environmental injustice in this setting?

All of the above listed injustices intersect here.


All rights reserved.

Created date

December 8, 2021

Cite as

Dana Powell and Rebecca Witter. 8 December 2021, "EiJ Photo Essay: EJ Co-Lab, Eastern NC, USA", Disaster STS Network, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 10 December 2021, accessed 24 January 2022.