Warren County, North Carolina

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Warren County, North Carolina

In 1982 residents of the predominantly African-American Warren County, North Carolina, began to protest the construction of a hazardous waste landfill near Warrenton in which the state planned to bury 400,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The contamination occurred when a disposal contractor dripped approximately 12,850 gallons of PCB-tainted fluids along 210 miles of roads in fourteen counties in North Carolina in 1978. Soon after the spill was discovered, the state acquired a 142.3-acre tract of land on which it proposed building a 19.3-acre landfill to bury the wastes. Opponents of the Warren County site filed two lawsuits in 1979 in their attempts to halt plans for the landfill.

At the time, the Warren County site, chosen from ninety sites considered, had a higher percentage of African-American residents of any county in the state. It was 64 percent black and the unincorporated Shocco Township, site of the landfill, was 75 percent black. Warren County ranked ninety-seventh in per capita income out of North Carolina's one hundred counties.

In November 1981 the district courts ruled against landfill opponents. Shortly thereafter protests began; these received widespread national attention. Local police and soldiers from the U.S. Army base at Fort Bragg (which was also contaminated with PCBs) were called in to quell the protests. In total, 523 people were arrested, including local congressman Walter Fauntroy and members of the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice. Fauntroy and other protesters urged the General Accounting Office (USGAO) to examine the relationship between the location of landfills in the Southeast and the demographics of host communities. This led to the publication of the well-known 1983 USGAO study.

Four years later, the United Church of Christ (UCC) Commission for Racial Justice published a national study examining the siting of hazardous facilities and waste sites. Both of these widely cited studies had a significant impact on mobilizing minority communities around environmental issues and the growth of the environmental justice movement. They were among the earliest studies to link race with the increased likelihood of close proximity to hazardous facilities and toxic waste sites. Unlike other studies of the same genre, they were widely circulated among minority activists and in minority communities.

see also Environmental Justice.


labalme, jenny. (1988). "dumping on warren county." in environmental politics: lessons from the grassroots, edited by bob hall. durham, nc: institute for southern studies, pp. 2330.

twitty v. state of north carolina. (1981). 527 f. supp. 778; 1981 u.s. district, nov. 25.

ucc. (1987). toxic waste and race in the united states. new york: united church of christ.

u.s. general accounting office (usgao). (1983). siting of hazardous waste landfills and their correlation with the racial and socio-economic status of surrounding communities. washington, d.c.: general accounting office.

warren county v. state of north carolina. (1981). 528 f. supp. 276; 1981 u.s. district, nov. 25.

Dorceta E. Taylor