photo by Jacob Kearns (Flickr CC)

In March I posted about how the poverty-stricken industrial city of Richmond, California is turning towards a cooperative business model. For the people of Richmond, always a place for poor and minority families (a town of oil refineries and chemical plants isn’t where the upwardly mobile go house hunting) the recession hits harder because residents don’t have a financial cushion. It also makes sense to try more democratic economic models when the typical capitalist system hasn’t worked out so well for you.

But it’s not just an economic problem. Refineries, toxic dumps, an industrial port, hazardous waste… these kind of things can really affect the health of a residential community.

The people of Richmond live within a ring of five major oil refineries, three chemical companies, eight Superfund sites, dozens of other toxic waste sites, highways, two rail yards, ports and marine terminals where tankers dock. The city of 103,701 doesn’t share the demographic of San Francisco, 25 miles to the south, or even Contra Costa County, or the state as a whole.

–Environmental Health News

One response from the local government of Richmond to the ill health of the city’s residents is a proposed tax on sugary drinks.

From the New York Times:

Pending voter approval, money from the tax, which has been championed by Dr. Jeff Ritterman, a cardiologist turned City Council member, would go toward fighting childhood obesity through more bike lanes, nutritional education and after-school sports programs. Already a contentious issue locally, the potential tax is also being viewed as a beachhead by a coalition of beverage manufacturers, merchant groups and labor unions who are organizing to defeat it.

Not a bad idea on the whole. But rich people also drink soda, have more options for healthy food (the availability of decent groceries in Richmond is another complaint) and aren’t told what to do as much as poor people. Florida politicians have also tried something similar with their food stamp system.

Anyway, it seems like America needs to divorce the amount of money you have from the amount of rights you have, including access to clean air, water and healthy food. Is that such a radical idea?

Read more about Richmond, California’s pollution woes in the Environmental Health News.