Sacrifice Zones

Sacrifice Zones

The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States

By Steve Lerner

Foreword by Phil Brown

The stories of residents of low-income communities across the country who took action when pollution from heavy industry contaminated their towns.





The stories of residents of low-income communities across the country who took action when pollution from heavy industry contaminated their towns.

Across the United States, thousands of people, most of them in low-income or minority communities, live next to heavily polluting industrial sites. Many of them reach a point at which they say “Enough is enough.” After living for years with poisoned air and water, contaminated soil, and pollution-related health problems, they start to take action—organizing, speaking up, documenting the effects of pollution on their neighborhoods.

In Sacrifice Zones, Steve Lerner tells the stories of twelve communities, from Brooklyn to Pensacola, that rose up to fight the industries and military bases causing disproportionately high levels of chemical pollution. He calls these low-income neighborhoods “sacrifice zones.” And he argues that residents of these sacrifice zones, tainted with chemical pollutants, need additional regulatory protections.

Sacrifice Zones goes beyond the disheartening statistics and gives us the voices of the residents themselves, offering compelling portraits of accidental activists who have become grassroots leaders in the struggle for environmental justice and details the successful tactics they have used on the fenceline with heavy industry.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262014403 368 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$24.95 T ISBN: 9780262518178 368 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


Phil Brown.


  • A significant complement to three decades of environmental justice research; it provides irrefutable empirical evidence that not all American communities are created equal.

    Robert D. Bullard

    Environmental Health Perspectives


  • This is a compelling treatise on why the dominant environmental protection apparatus should be overhauled to emphasize prevention, precaution, and equal protection. The book is a significant complement to three decades of environmental justice research that provides irrefutable empirical evidence that all American communities are not created equal.

    Robert D. Bullard

    Ware Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Director, Environmental Justice Resource Center, Clark Atlanta University

  • Easy to read, compelling, and hard to put down. The stories are important, have not been told, and need to be recounted in a public way. This book will give motivation to some, solace to others, and consternation to organizations that are exposed.

    Peter L. DeFur

    Virginia Commonwealth University

  • These case histories from fenceline America are compelling, beautifully detailed stories that integrate authentic voices from grassroots struggles for environmental justice. Lerner captures the nuance of these community struggles, and posits the common paradigm linking these twelve communities as he heralds the pain, the passion, the human cost of life and death in America's sacrifice zones.

    Peggy M. Shepard

    Executive Director and cofounder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, New York City

  • Sacrifice Zones is the compelling companion work to Diamond, Steve Lerner's landmark study of a small Louisiana town coping with the ravages of pollution from the factories surrounding it. In this book, Lerner travels to a dozen low-income, mostly minority communities around the country where the pressure to protect good-paying jobs takes a grim and painful toll on human health. As he did with such skill in Diamond, Lerner lets the people living, working, and in too many cases, dying from pollution in these 'fenceline communities' do the story telling. What the reader will be left with is shame and outrage that the richest country in the world has allowed entire communities to be sacrificed to pollution. But I believe you will also come away from this book with fresh resolve that our fellow citizens will not continue to be forgotten casualties of commerce.

    Ken Cook

    President, Environmental Working Group