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The Locality of Waste Sites Within the City of Chicago: A Demographic, Social, and Economic Analysis


  • Brett Baden
  • Don Coursey


"The Locality of Waste Sites in the City of Chicago: A Demographic, Social, and Economic Analysis" is a study designed to explore the factors that explain the location of a wide class of environmental wastes in a large American city. This report expands on the 1994 study "Environmental Racism in the City of Chicago: The History of EPA Hazardous Waste Sites in African American Neighborhoods" (1994). The previous study investigated the existence or absence of environmental racism in Chicago; it examined the location of a random sample of the CERCLA ("Superfund," National Priority, or potential Superfund) hazardous waste sites - most of which are the legacy of heavy industry. The study found no correlation between the location of hazardous waste sites and greater numbers of African Americans, in other words, race played an unimportant role in explaining the geographical history of CERCLA sites. The present study improves upon "Environmental Racism in the City of Chicago" in several important ways. "The Locality of Waste Sites in the City of Chicago" examines the location of three types of environmental hazards: all the CERCLIS sites in the city as well as the RCRA TSDF sites. RCRA hazardous waste generators, and historical hazardous waste sites. These three categories of sites are examined in relation to racial, ethnic, and income variables, as well as access to transportation and waste disposal infrastructure. Different types of regression analysis are used to investigate what demographic and physical features predict: the location of sites within limited communities, the location of sites within larger neighborhoods, and the concentration of sites. These analyses are performed for both 1990 and 1960 to provide a better understanding of the history of waste site locations. These improvements dramatically enhance the depth, breadth, and power of the previous analysis. Analysis of the location and concentration of waste sites in 1960 reveals that waste was located in neighborhoods with low population densities near commercial waterways. Waste sites were located in poorer neighborhoods, specifically poor white neighborhoods. In 1990 waste sites also tended to be located in low population density areas near commercial waterways and commercial highways. There is no evidence of environmental racism against African Americans for either CERCLA and RCRA TSD sites, or RCRA waste generators. More African Americans do appear to live in proximity to historical solid waste disposal sites (mostly historical landfills, with less potential hazardousness than CERCLA or RCRA sites), though these analyses have less power. There is no evidence that African Americans live in areas with higher concentrations of hazardous waste that whites or Hispanics. The percentage of Hispanics in an area, however, is significant in describing the location of CERCLA sites and solid waste disposal sites. This may be due to the relatively recent in-migration of increasing numbers of Hispanics into predominantly white ethnic neighborhoods. Surprisingly, areas where RCRA and solid waste disposal sites are located tend to have higher incomes; this is likely the result of the recent trend in construction of high price river-front residences in previously industrial areas. The City of Chicago and other American cities have rich and complicated histories involving ebbs and flows in industry and wealth, in ethnic and racial composition of their populations, and in patterns of land use. Any or all of these may affect how a waste site came to be located in a given community. The conclusions of this report echo those of its predecessor: we should proceed with caution in applying labels of "fair" and "unfair" to the outcomes produced by the complex interactions between social, historical, and economic forces.

Suggested Citation

  • Brett Baden & Don Coursey, 1997. "The Locality of Waste Sites Within the City of Chicago: A Demographic, Social, and Economic Analysis," Working Papers 9702, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:9702

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