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Highly polluting paper factories in Africatown, Alabama, US

I know it’s a big money-maker, but what price do you put on a human life? Africatown, a mostly black, low-income community, is fighting past and future toxic pollution in Alabama.


Africatown is a small low-income African American community that resides in Mobile, Alabama. The site of the last slave ship to come to the United States in 1860, Africatown was formed as a small community by a group of 32 West Africans after slavery was abolished [1]. Africatown was thriving: freedman bought land from their previous owners, shaping a self-governing community drawn from African traditions [1][5].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Highly polluting paper factories in Africatown, Alabama, US
Country:United States of America
State or province:Alabama
Location of conflict:Mobile County
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Chemical industries
Other industries
Specific commodities:Chemical products
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

-The first project, closed in 2000, was International Paper. Not much data exists on the emissions and amount of waste produced from the plant, however according to a 1992 report in the Birmingham News, 53,000 pounds of chloroform were released into the air that year from the plant in Africatown alone [2].

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Project area:2,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:12,000
Start of the conflict:2017
Company names or state enterprises:International Paper Co. (IP) from United States of America - Air and water pollution, improper waste management
Kemira Water Solutions (KWS) from Finland - Expansion project on a chemical treatment plant, set to be finished in late 2020.
Relevant government actors:Environmental Protection Agency
Town of Mobile
State of Alabama
Alabama Department of Environmental Management
Chickasaw Police Department
Chickasaw Fire Department
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- Clean Healthy Educated Safe & Sustainable (C.H.E.S.S) (
-Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (
-Hip Hop Caucus (
-HBCU-CBO Gulf Coast Equity Consortium (
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Infectious diseases, Malnutrition
Other Health impactsalthough no town-specific data exists, longtime residents report they are dying mostly from cancer before age 65 and a recent survey of 150 residents reported 100 of them or their local relatives had cancer [9]
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
Potential: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Proposal and development of alternatives:Residents are seeking compensation and environmental restoration.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The population of Africatown has dwindled over the past few decades. Residents continue to fall ill to cancer and other diseases as a result of pollution. Many people have lost their jobs and died as a result of pollution.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[5] Bourne, Joel. Saving Africatown. National Geographic Magazine. (2020).
[click to view]

[3] Sharp, John. 'Price of human life': Africatown residents blast heavy industry during chemical plant hearing. Advance Local Media. (2018)
[click to view]

[1] Zanolli, Lauren. 'Still fighting' : Africatown, site of last US slave shipment, sues over pollution. The Guardian. (2018).
[click to view]

[2] Tabor, Nick. Africatown and the 21st-Century Stain of Slavery. The New Yorker. n.d.
[click to view]

[4] Africatown on "60 Minutes". Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. 2020.
[click to view]

[6] Dioxins and their effects on human health
[click to view]

[8] Overheated chemical tank drives evacuations near Mobile
[click to view]

[9] Africatown, A Small Historically Black Town Fighting a Billion Dollar Company That’s Devastating Its Community with Toxic Waste
[click to view]

[7] Kemira plant expansion hearing
[click to view]

Other comments:“The jobs are important, it’s true,” said Arlean Horton, who was born and raised in the Africatown neighborhood, also known as Plateau, not far away from the plant. “But if everyone is dead in the community, who will hold the positions?” [3]
Meta information
Contributor:Bryce Mather, Appalachian State University [email protected] / updated by Arielle Landau and Grettel Navas (ENVJustice Project)
Last update07/10/2021
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