Environmental Racism in Roanoke Virginia: A Historical and Scientific Approach

Author: Eli Wooliever
Major: Physics and Biochemistry
Approved: Spring 2021
Status: In progress

This project, a joint effort between Ashtyn Porter and myself, aims to investigate how institutionalized racism has historically affected and currently affects the environmental protections of predominantly Black communities. As well as this, our goal is to analyze the environment quality in such communities compared to predominantly white ones. Specifically, we intend to investigate redlining—a housing policy that denied people of color access to housing developments, segregated communities, and increased inequality between neighborhoods—and its effect on the environmental protections currently in place in such communities. One example that we will be looking into is the case of Washington Park, which is a predominantly Black neighborhood in central Roanoke that used to have a landfill in the 1950s until community members organized protests to stop the landfill’s use and convert it into a park. Such issues have the possibility of greatly impacting the health of the environment and its inhabitants and occur more frequently in poor and minority communities. Therefore, this project will attempt to join historical and political research with environmental data to understand the connections between climate change effects and systematic racism. My section of the project will include the development of an Arduino-based water quality sensor that can be used to track indicators of water health, such as pH and turbidity, which will be used in conjunction with Raman spectroscopy to detect microplastics that could be contaminating non-drinking-based water sources. This, combined with Ashtyn’s historical research can then be brought to the local legislative body’s attention for further action. Finally, we are planning to engage in community service in affected communities to help educate and improve environmental quality.