People walk through MLK Park near Santa Fe and Nystrom Village neighborhoods in Richmond, California, March 23, 2021. Photos by Sarahbeth Maney for OneZero.

Black in the Time of Climate Change

Coal Is In Decline, But Its Effects Still Ravage Black and Latinx Communities

Across the U.S., people of color point to a root cause: environmental racism

Future Human
Published in
11 min readApr 5, 2021

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Wind blows oily black dust onto cars, windowsills, and lawns as a 100-car train loaded with coal rolls past Parchester Village, a historically Black neighborhood in Richmond, California. This happens a couple of times a week. The train’s cargo, mined from the mountains of Utah by the coal giant Wolverine Fuels, will join the towering piles of coal at the Levin-Richmond Terminal, a privately owned coal shipping port seven miles away. The terminal is responsible for a quarter of the coal the United States ships from the West Coast to Asia.

The coal dust gets so thick that some say you can write your name in it. This has long been a fact of life for the residents of Parchester Village and of Santa Fe and Nystrom Village, two nearby communities of color.

“You’ve got that little black residue that people are breathing in,” says Dale Weatherspoon, pastor at Easter Hill United Methodist Church, which is near the terminal. Richmond has the highest number of emergency department visits for asthma-related symptoms in its county, Contra Costa.

Rev. Dr. Dale Weatherspoon, pastor at Easter Hill United Methodist Church in Richmond, California, March 23, 2021.

North Richmond resident Paulette Foster says her two great-grandsons grew up “always playing near the train tracks” and constantly had a runny nose and cough. The childcare center they used to attend was shut down in 2018 because of pollution from the trains. Now, one of the children goes to a school just a four-minute drive from the shuttered facility.

Richmond is a pollution hot spot in the Bay Area. It’s home to several factories and major highways in addition to the coal. The area is 20% Black and 41.1% Latinx and has been home to these communities for decades. During World War II, Black people migrated there from the American South to work in shipyards and housing discrimination forced them into the city’s polluted industrial neighborhoods, where they still live today. Latinx people

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Drew Costley
Future Human

Drew Costley is a Staff Writer at FutureHuman covering the environment, health, science and tech. Previously @ SFGate, East Bay Express, USA Today, etc.