Sarah Brooks
December 2000

Environmental Justice Case Study

Innovative Waste Utilization and the Concerned Residents of South Phoenix, AZ

Table of Contents
Key Actors
Key Contacts
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Map Courtesy of the University of Texas


Innovative Waste Utilization (IWU) is one of many hazardous waste facilities located in the area of South Phoenix, Arizona. The company had proposed an expansion of their 4-acre facility in 1999, which is located at 2575 South Sixteenth Avenue. The neighborhood surrounding this hazardous waste facility is comprised of mostly African American and some Latino families (

In addition to expansion, IWU also wanted to begin treating hazardous waste at the newly expanded facility. The waste stored at IWU is not produced at the facility. Instead, it is trucked in from other companies, and frequently from other states. This importation of waste produces additional risks to the community. The psychological stigma of living among another state's garbage is one of those risks (Brittle October 19, 2000). The proposed expansion of IWU is yet another environmental injustice that has been placed upon the citizens of the community. The minority neighborhoods of South Phoenix are disproportionately affected by the continual amount of hazardous waste in the area (Greenaction).

Recently, the grassroots organization Concerned Residents of South Phoenix (CRSP) with the help of the environmental justice law advocates at The Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, charged the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) with violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VI states that agencies that receive federal funding are prohibited from actions that have a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on people of color. The group also claims that the ADEQ did not properly notify the public about IWU's expansion proposal (Kossan August 9, 2000). The mostly minority citizens of South Phoenix are concerned for their health and the health of their children after a long history of environmental problems in their community.

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In 1996, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) described the area in which IWU is located as a "low-income, minority community already overburdened with industry (qtd. October 31, 1999).” In 1999, the same organization, ADEQ, was considering offering a permit for expansion allowing for increased waste management activities, to the IWU hazardous waste facility.

 IWU is not the only hazardous waste facility in the area that poses a threat to the people of South Phoenix. There are seven hazardous waste facilities in the Phoenix area that import hazardous waste. Of these seven facilities, one is located on an Indian reservation, and the other six are located in the neighborhoods that make up the area referred to as South Phoenix (Brittle October 19, 2000). The citizens in this area have been dealing with the problems of hazardous waste for too long.

Since the 1960s, there has been dumping of waste in South Phoenix neighborhoods. In 1992, there was a toxic chemical fire in the area. The blaze started at Quality Printed Circuits manufacturing plant, which is located about a half a mile from the Salt River in South Phoenix. The fire at this plastic manufacturing facility lasted almost 12 hours, and invaded the homes and lungs of many South Phoenix residents. Tests administered by the ADEQ after the incident have shown abnormally high concentrations of zinc in many area homes (Yozwiak September 9, 1994). After this horrific event, it was shown that death rates in the area had increased, and health of community members had deteriorated in the area downwind of the fire (

Another incident occurred in 1994,when the ADEQ allowed the state of California to send hazardous waste, which contained both DDT and lead, to South Phoenix. The waste was to be stored while the state environmental officials found a permanent location for the sludge (Yozwiak November 4, 1994). Both lead and DDT have been found to pose significant threats to human health. Lead poisoning in low amounts has been linked to kidney damage and reproductive problems, as well as problems with the nervous and immune systems (Johnson 1999).  DDT is a known toxin, and its use has been banned in the United States since 1970s.

 This displaced waste was held by Greenfield Environmental, who was the previous operator of the facility that is now run by IWU. The neighbors of this site and the citizens in the area have dealt with years of living among the environmental toxins that have been stored at this location and others like it. One citizen, Carol Gibbons, was reported in the Arizona Republic as saying, "The community is tired of the amount of dirty industry in its mostly poor, minority neighborhoods"(qtd. Kossan November 4, 1999). These events started the neighborhood families in a dispute with not only IWU but also local and state governmental organizations.

There has been much resistance to the expansion of IWU at the local level, as well as with select environmental groups. The struggle has united the people in the affected area, as well as members of surrounding communities. As a result of the actions of grassroots organizations like CRSP and with the help of larger advocacy groups, the IWU expansion has been stopped in its tracks (Brittle October 19, 2000).

This struggle began as a battle against the expansion of IWU, and soon turned into a fight with all hazardous and toxic waste facilities in the South Phoenix area. Now it has become an environmental justice battle. The citizens believe that the state officials who allow these facilities to continue to operate in primarily minority neighborhoods are placing them at a disproportionate risk ( 

Living among toxic and hazardous waste does propose many risks. The health effects of living near hazardous waste facilities are numerous and they are especially harmful to certain members of the community. Children, elderly, and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the impacts of hazardous and toxic waste (Johnson 1999).

Physical risks are not all being faced by the community members of South Phoenix. According to Steve Brittle, Co-Chair of Concerned Residents of South Phoenix and president of Don't Waste Arizona, Inc; the main problem for the citizens of South Phoenix is the psychological stigma of living among hazardous and toxic waste (qtd Brittle October 19,2000).

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Key Actors:

Innovative Waste Utilization:

This hazardous waste facility located in south Phoenix had proposed to expand its four-acre hazardous waste holding facility. The California based corporation also wished to expand its hazardous waste duties to include waste storage, fuel

Text Box:      Hazardous Waste Sites                     Air Releases          

     Discharges to Water             	   Multiple            
2.2 miles across South Phoenix, AZ
blending, and other potentially dangerous activities. Once the waste was treated, they had hoped to move it out of the facility by truck or rail tanker (Kossan November 4, 1999). The site that the company occupies has been housing waste facilities that have been operating without a permanent permit for more than 17 years.

When IWU purchased the facility from Greenfield's Environmental, an interim permit was included in the deal. By not applying for a permanent permit, Innovative Waste Utilization saved themselves from many difficulties, one of which is the public hearing that was required for a permit grant. When IWU applied for the expansion permit, there were many problems with their application. One

component of the permit application process is a detailed emergency plan. The ADEQ found that the permit request and emergency plans of IWU were seriously flawed. In addition, there were numerous environmental violations (Brittle October 19,2000). These flaws caused a delay in the processing of the permit, and lengthened the time for the public to voice disapproval and protest to the ADEQ.

The site on which IWU is currently operating was shown to have seven contaminated areas found in 1990, that were never cleaned up. IWU stated that, only if they were allowed to expand, they would clean all sites, including an arsenic spill (Kossan, Pat October 17, 1999).

When IWU was pressed about locating and operating in the minority neighborhood of South Phoenix, the corporation claimed that there were no discriminatory factors involved in the location in which they chose to operate. In fact, they argued that the expansion would help the community by providing jobs and contributing to the taxbase (Kossan October 21, 1999). A lawyer for the company stated that IWU would move the facility out of South Phoenix if the city would pay the $2.7 million that the proposed move would cost (Moeser and Kossan February 11, 2000).

Co- founded by Steve Brittle, the CRSP is a grassroots organization that is comprised of various residents of the South Phoenix area. The group was formed in 1992, in response to a toxic chemical fire at a near by plastics manufacturing plant ( The members of CRSP are citizens who are outraged with the present conditions of their neighborhoods and with the disproportionate placement of hazardous waste facilities in their minority community. They are concerned about the continued exposure to hazardous waste they face everyday. *The CRSP organization has been vital in the struggle to stop the expansion of IWU. They are also concerned with stopping all hazardous waste expansions in South Phoenix. They informed the public of their situation by holding marches, town meetings, and by actively taking part in city council meetings.

Recently, CRSP, with the help of The Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, charged the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality with violation  of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They claim that the ADEQ continues to place them at a disparate risk by permitting and supporting the toxic and hazardous waste facilities in the area. In addition, they also threatened to file an additional complaint against ADEQ as well and escalate protests if a new permit was issued to IWU  (

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ):

The ADEQ oversees hazardous waste facilities in Arizona. They are responsible for permitting, regulating, and inspecting the toxic and hazardous waste facilities in the state of Arizona. This governmental organization was initially supportive of IWU's expansion proposal and permit request. Dennis Clayton, manager of the ADEQ's  Hazardous Waste Permit Department, stated that he "would protect the public and help concentrate hazardous waste in one easily regulated industrial area (qtd. Kossan November 4, 1999)." This caused an uproar with the citizens who resided in the 'easily regulated area' to which he referred. After much community outrage, the ADEQ backed away from supporting the plan. However, the ADEQ is not pleased with the city of Phoenix's new ordinances, which stop hazardous waste facilities from entering the city (Brittle October 19, 2000). The ADEQ has also had little training dealing with environmental justice issues, and was unreceptive to the community's cries of environmental racism ( Brittle).

City Council of Phoenix:

In response to the IWU expansion proposal, the City Council of Phoenix developed an ordinance, which prevented hazardous waste facilities such as IWU from expanding. It also prevented new hazardous waste companies from coming into the South Phoenix area. The city officials of Phoenix were opposed to the IWU expansion proposal from the beginning. The City Council unanimously voted against the expansion proposal when it was presented. Phoenix Vice Mayor Lingner was reported as saying "the city will work toward moving all toxic-waste dumps away from South Phoenix neighborhoods, which are overburdened with dirty industry" (qtd. Moeser and Kossan February 11, 2000).

Rep. John Loredo, D-Southwest Phoenix:

Rep. Loredo sponsored two bills that would dramatically change the way hazardous and toxic waste facilities were regulated in South Phoenix. The first proposal would not allow toxic and hazardous waste facilities to operate on temporary permits any longer as many, including IWU, have done. The second bill he has proposed would force the ADEQ to deny permits to those facilities operating in areas where there would be a disproportionate impact on minorities. This would help ensure the redistribution of waste among all populations so as to free neighborhoods like South Phoenix, as well as other minority communities, of the burden of holding the majority of hazardous and toxic waste facilities. As a result of Loredo's actions, the House of Representatives passed an amended bill that allowed the ADEQ to deny expansion requests if the facility in question adversely effects a minority community already overburdened with industry (Kossan April 8, 2000).


This environmental advocacy organization helped raise public awareness of the environmental injustices facing the community of South Phoenix by aiding in organizing and informing the public about the environmental issues the citizens of South Phoenix were facing. Greenaction used resources like the internet to inform the public on a more state, national, and worldwide level. Greenaction also worked with the community groups and aided CRSP in the preparation of the Title VI complaint against the ADEQ (

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Racial make-up of the City of Phoenix:

Race                                                    Population

White..................................................... 803,332

Black....................................................... 51,053

Hispanic.................................................. 197,103

Data taken from 1990 census data.

Racial make-up of the ZIP code 85007. This is the ZIP code of Innovative Waste Utilization.

Race                                                    Population

White ....................................................6,882

Black .....................................................2,455


Data taken from 1990 census data.                   

Racial make up of the neighborhood sharing the census tract number 1148 with IWU. These figures show the high minority make-up of the area immediately surrounding IWU.

Race                                       Population

White....................................... 612

Black....................................... 1,207

Hispanic…………………….. 1,082

Data taken from 1990 census data.                                    

This demographic data shows the high percentage of African Americans and Hispanics living in the neighborhoods around Innovative Waste Utilization compared to the number of African Americans and Hispanics that make up the entire city of Phoenix.

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            The strategies used by CRSP were very successful in the groups struggle for environmental justice. The group worked very diligently for their cause, and it paid off. The majority of its work involved public awareness campaigns, such as marches, rallies, town meetings and non-violent protests. The success of these events was key to their struggle against IWU.

             The CRSP was also very successful in getting their message across to all of their targets. There were many institutions that were targeted in the struggle. One target was the ADEQ, who had the power to grant IWU a permit, as well as to enforce permit regulations, shutting down the hazardous waste facilities that were not in compliance. IWU was also an important target, as well as other facilities that might want to move into the South Phoenix area. Also targeted were the lawmakers and officials that had the power to change toxic and hazardous waste regulations on a statewide level. The actions of CRSP got the attention of lawmakers such as Rep. Laredo, who took the environmental justice struggle to the Arizona State House of Representatives (Kossan October 31, 2000). Although Laredo faces much opposition to the bills he presented, the environmental justice issues of South Phoenix are at getting exposure at a statewide level.

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As a result of the Concerned Residents of South Phoenix's actions, the City Council of Phoenix passed an ordinance in May of 2000, that not only prohibits the expansion of hazardous the IWU facility in South Phoenix, but also keeps all hazardous waste treatment facilities in the South Phoenix area from expanding (Brittle October 19, 2000). This ordinance also prohibits new hazardous and toxic waste facilities from moving into the area.

In addition, talks are being held regarding the necessity of changing the state policy that allows facilities to operate with an interim permit. Currently, there is no definition of "interim." According to Steve Brittle, it was expected that facilities that were granted interim permits would apply for permanent permits in less than two years. However, this ideal two years has turned into over a decade of operation without proper permits in some cases, like the case of IWU (Brittle October 19, 2000). There are many reasons why operating on temporary permits is so appealing to Arizona's hazardous waste facilities. These temporary permits allow less safety and cleanup regulations and hold milder financial liability requirements than those facilities awarded a permanent permit (Kossan, November 12, 1999). Frequently, hazardous waste facilities neglect to get permanent permits, because doing so would require a public hearing. This hearing would mean an additional chance for the public to object to the building and operating of hazardous and toxic waste facilities in their neighborhoods.

The practice of granting long lasting temporary permits is changing on a nation wide basis. However, the state of Arizona is lagging behind in the changeover from temporary to permanent permits. The EPA suggested that, by the year 2005, all interim permits are expected to become permanent permits on a nationwide level (Kossan, November 12, 1999). Until that happens, as well as after, it is imperative that community based organizations such as CRSP keep fighting for the rights of their communities and for environmental justice.

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As it stands now, no additional hazardous waste facilities will be permitted to locate in the South Phoenix area. This controversial decision made by the City Council of Phoenix was not welcomed by a great number of members of the polluter friendly government of Arizona (Brittle October 19, 2000). According to Steve Brittle of Don't Waste Arizona Inc., it will be virtually impossible for this new regulation to be overturned or violated.

The ADEQ needs to undergo intense environmental justice training so they can adequately deal with future siting and permitting decisions. In addition, the ADEQ also needs to stop the importation of hazardous and toxic waste from other states into the South Phoenix area (Brittle).

Brittle also stated that the CRSP and other grassroots community organizations involved need to work on their internal communication skills, as well as follow through on duties and goals so they can continue to be a viable force in the environmental justice arena. These organizations need to continue to be active in the community, making sure the ADEQ and EPA begin to follow up on permit violations. These groups should also begin to work on getting more legislative support to change the current interim permits (Brittle).

Additionally, Brittle expressed the necessity of enforcing permit violations more stringently. If a facility has neglected to get the proper permits after two years, there needs to be repercussions (Brittle).

Finally, the CRSP needs to continue to attempt to get media coverage in their case. This will make the public aware of the struggle, which will possibly help other communities facing similar situations mobilize for justice.

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Key Contact:

Steve Brittle

Concerned Resident of South Phoenix

and Don't Waste Arizona Inc.

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Angel, Bradley. "2000 Accomplishments" Greenaction Accomplishments.         

<> (15 October 2000).
Angel, Bradley. “We Are Tired of Being a Toxic Waste Dumping Ground” Greenaction

Arizona Alert. (14 September 2000).

Brittle, Steve. “Concerned Residents of South Phoenix” Don’t Waste Arizona, Inc.       

< > (20 September 2000).

Brittle, Steve. Telephone Interview. 19 Oct. 2000.

Johnson, Barry K. Impact of Hazardous Waste on Human Health. New York: Lewis    Publishers, 1999.

Kossan, Pat." City Seeking to Halt Waste Sites Expansion." Arizona Republic 20

Oct. 1999, Final Chaser: B1.

" Hazardous Waste Permits Lacking, Temporary Status Hinders Regulation." Arizona Republic 12 Nov. 1999, Final Chaser: A1.

"Phoenix Waste Firm Argues for Expansion." Arizona Republic 8 April  2000, Final Chaser: B1.

"Poor Battling Hazardous Waste; Demand Environmental Justice." Arizona Republic 31 October, 1999. Final Chaser: A1

 " S. Phoenix Residents Claim Bias on Dump Sites." Arizona Republic 9 Aug.

2000, Final Chaser: B2.

"Waste- Plant Expansion Bid Draws Fire from Residents." Arizona Republic 4 November 1999, Final Chaser: B1.

"Waste Site Cleanup Clouded; Owner Wants to Double Size First." Arizona

            Republic 17 Oct. 1999, Final Chaser: B1.

Moeser, Chris and Pat Kossan. " Neighbors, Officials Fight Waste-Plant Expansion;    

March to Capitol Slated for Saturday. Arizona Republic 11 Feb. 2000, Final

            Chaser: B1.

Yozwiak, Steve. "Orphan Waste Being Stored in South Phoenix." Arizona Republic 4

Aug. 1994, Final Chaser : B1.