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Environmental Racism in the City of Chicago: The History of EPA Hazardous Waste Sites in African-American Neighborhoods


  • Don Coursey
  • Andrew Geer
  • Christine Hagerbaumer
  • David Hammond
  • Betsy Mendelsohn


When the American public thinks about pollution problems, chances are it thinks of them in terms of broad encompassing issues like global warming, air pollution, acid rain, or deforestation - issues which impact people at a societal level. However, in the last decade, a grass roots movement which examines the distribution patterns of environmental hazards has gained national prominence. This is the environmental justice movement. The argument at the crux of this movement is that low-income and minority communities have been exposed much more to environmental hazards than affluent, white communities. Proponents of the movement claim that the location of hazardous facilities has caused disadvantaged communities to bear an unfair toxic burden - leading to much greater rates of disease and death than the rest of the general population. These supporters claim that proximity to hazardous facilities has led to "much of the . . . pain and suffering experienced by people in minority and low income communities." Furthermore, some supporters claim that the siting of industrial or hazardous waste facilities in low-income or minority neighborhoods is intentional – a byproduct of environmental racism. They claim that waste-management companies and government agancies have conspicuously targeted these communities because of their lack of political and economic status. Sulaiman Mahdi, an Atlanta environmental activist says that, "Poor people and minorities are so occupied with their daily struggles to survive that they’re not going to resist a chemical dump or an incinerator…Waste companies know that there is less resistance in these communities, and that’s why they go there." The purpose of this study is to examine the histories of contaminated sites within the city of Chicago and determine if racism is a key variable in their location or not.

Suggested Citation

  • Don Coursey & Andrew Geer & Christine Hagerbaumer & David Hammond & Betsy Mendelsohn, 1994. "Environmental Racism in the City of Chicago: The History of EPA Hazardous Waste Sites in African-American Neighborhoods," Working Papers 9408, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:9408

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