Midwest Social Sciences Journal


In the 1970s, Emelle, Alabama welcomed the establishment of a new corporation and the promise of new economic opportunities. The small settlement, almost exclusively African-American (94%) and in poverty (67%) was selected by Waste Management, Inc., after lobbying by Governor George Wallace to create the largest hazardous waste landfill in the US. When a state policy change significantly increasing costs, production slowed, jobs dissipated (from 430 to 250), and destitution returned. At the same time, other problems began to the surface, including water contamination and increasing rates of childhood cancers, attributable to the toxic seepage. The dump still operates, but processes 85% fewer tons of toxic waste and the city’s population has dwindled to less than 60 people in 2010. The state’s decision to prioritize economic health over individual and environmental health incited a temporary economic boom but left long-term environmental consequences. While the white politicians found other revenue sources and businesses dumping toxic waste use other sites, Emelle and its people are no better economically and far worse environmentally and health-wise. This paper explores the toxic waste dump by analyzing the dichotomies of white power/black lives and economic health/environmental health, amid the larger conversation of environmental racism.