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What is a sacrifice zone?

Clean Heat, Clean Air | Educational Building Block #2

Welcome to the Massachusetts Clean Heat, Clean Air campaign educational building block series! This series was created by Mothers Out Front members to share key concepts and terms from our campaign for healthy homes & communities. These building blocks are intended to be short, easy learning opportunities for busy advocates.

What is a sacrifice zone?

You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.”

Hop Hopkins, Director of Organizational Transformation, Sierra Club


Image Source: Sojourners Magazine

In our fossil fuel age, corporate and government leaders have made decisions on where to site power plants. Same goes for highways and airports, landfills, chemical vats, pipelines, factories – you get the idea. The list goes on and on, and yet our corporations and governments have rarely inflicted the air pollution and other environmental damage wrought by these projects on wealthy white neighborhoods. Instead, they have created sacrifice zones – places given up for the “greater good” of society. These sacrifice zones are overwhelmingly located in communities of color, low-income and working-class communities, and Indigenous communities which are already burdened by compounding injustices of systemic racism and unequal access to opportunity.

Black Americans are 75% more likely to live near oil and gas facilities than white Americans.[1]  Americans identifying as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) also live in more polluted communities than white Americans and experience higher rates of childhood asthma. [2] [3] [4] The health impacts of air pollution and other environmental contamination have been devastating to residents of these communities.[5] Today, we have a dig, burn, dump economy. And it’s killing us and killing our planet.

Sacrifice Zones in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, as is true nationally, BIPOC communities are exposed to more air pollution than white communities – and these inequalities have worsened overtime.[6] Massachusetts is home to numerous sacrifice zones. The Fore River Basin and Chelsea are two examples in our state.  Advocates warn that Springfield, the nation’s “Asthma Capital”, will become a sacrifice zone if a proposed biomass incinerator opens in the city. [7]

Fore River Basin

The site of the Weymouth compressor station.

In 2020, a natural gas compressor station was built In Weymouth, one of the three communities comprising the port area of the Fore River Basin and an area which encompasses two state designated environmental justice communities. The compressor is surrounded by toxic infrastructure, and area residents suffer from higher than average pediatric asthma, cancer, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.[8]


The Tobin bridge abuts Chelsea housing. Source: Erin Clark / The Boston Globe

Chelsea is the state’s boiler room, the spot where we’ve dumped the toxic ugliness that makes Massachusetts run. It’s home to massive fuel tanks and mountains of road salt; to airport parking lots, industrial facilities, and a busy produce center that sends heavy traffic hurtling  along its streets; planes fly low on their way in and out of Logan, and ships slide by on the Chelsea Creek; the city is cut in half by the car-choked Tobin Bridge; it has too much contaminated land and too little green space.”

Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe

Preventing Sacrifice Zones

The Clean Heat, Clean Air campaign supports frontline communities fighting new, expanding, or existing polluting infrastructure. Our campaign backs organizations in these communities in their campaigns and advocates at the state level for legislation to prevent additional pollution in overburdened areas or the creation of new sacrifice zones.

Key Term:

Cumulative Impact Analysis

A cumulative impact analysis takes the existing burden on a community into account when assessing new infrastructure projects. Massachusetts’s new climate law will now require agencies to consider a community’s total pollution levels when evaluating permits for projects that might harm the environment or human health.[9] For example, the lack of a cumulative impact analysis is one of the reasons the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is considering reexamining the Weymouth compressor station’s operating license.[10] This is an exciting victory! But we’re just beginning.

Deep Dive: