What is a Sacrifice Zone?

April 16, 2021

Welcome to our second Clean Heat, Clean Air educational building block. This short series describes key concepts that will be used in the Mothers Out Front Massachusetts 2021-2022 state campaign. 

Educational Building Block #2: 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

 Weymouth Compressor Site

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]


Chelsea and Tobin Bridge

“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: 

Meet the Team: Susan and Carol 

Susan, grandmother of five, was on the founding leadership team of Mothers Out Front. She has put her energy particularly into MA Mothers Out Front solidarity work with frontline communities, and into our Environmental Justice team. As part of the EJ team and Sustaining All Life/United to End Racism she has helped facilitate environmental justice workshops for our MA mothers.

Carol is the mother of two sons, who along with their wives, have given her three wonderful grandchildren. She joined Mothers Out Front in 2013, and was very active in the Arlington chapter, then added working with Susan in solidarity work with frontline communities. In 2020 she was part of the Path to Power group that created the charter for Mothers Out Front MA’s new governance structure. Carol has been on the new Massachusetts Leadership Team and the Core Leadership team as a campaign representative since the new structure went into effect. 

If you missed the welcome video from Anne and Kathleen, you can find it at this link.

What’s next?

In the next few weeks we’re going to talk about a creative solution for heating neighborhoods, the health impacts of gas, and dig into some of the questions and comments that we’ve received from you.  Did you miss our first building block “what is an all-electric building?” No worries - it’s linked here. 

We want to hear from you!

Environmental justice is a pillar of our campaign. Please let us know what we missed and what else you want to know about this vast topic. Find us at [email protected].  

New to Mothers Out Front or want to learn more? Join our Welcome Call on May 5 at noon. RSVP here. Please also follow Mothers Out Front MA on Facebook and Twitter. 

~Susan and Carol

Liaison to Frontline Communities & Representative to the Massachusetts Leadership Team and Core Team for the Clean Heat, Clean Air campaign 



[1] https://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Fumes-Across-the-Fence-Line_NAACP-and-CATF-Study.pdf

[2] https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1164/rccm.201202-0350ED

[3] https://www.pnas.org/content/115/9/2078 

[4] https://elizabethwarren.com/plans/environmental-justice

[5] https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/reports/fossil-fuel-racism/

[6] https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19s-unequal-effects-in-massachusetts/download

[7] https://www.masslive.com/opinion/2020/12/biomass-plant-will-create-a-sacrifice-zone-in-springfield-guest-viewpoint.html

[8] https://www.wbur.org/earthwhile/2019/06/19/proposed-weymouth-gas-compressor-explained

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/02/massachusetts-law-environmental-justice

[10] https://www.wbur.org/earthwhile/2021/03/19/weymouth-compressor-ferc-precedent-enbridge-natural-gas

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Andra Rose
    published this page 2021-04-18 17:26:27 -0400