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Who Lives on the Wrong Side of the Environmental Tracks? Evidence from the EPA's Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators Model

  • T. Robert Fetter
  • Michael Ash
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    This study analyzes the social and economic correlates of air pollution exposure in U.S. cities using a unique dataset created as a by-product of the EPA’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators model and finds evidence of disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards in communities with higher concentrations of lower-income people and people of color. We improve on previous studies of environmental inequality in three ways. First, where previous studies focus on the proximity to point sources and the total mass of pollutants released, our measure of toxic exposure reflects atmospheric dispersion and chemical toxicity. Second, we analyze the data at a fine level of geographic resolution. Third, we control for substantial regional variations in pollution, allowing us to identify exposure differences both within cities and between cities. We combine 1998 data on toxicity-adjusted exposure to air pollution with 1990 Census block group data for urbanized areas. We find that blacks tend to live both in more polluted cities in the U.S. and in more polluted neighborhoods within cities. Hispanics live in less polluted cities on average, but they live in more polluted areas within cities. We find an extremely consistent income-pollution gradient, with lower income people significantly more exposed. Our findings highlight the importance of controlling for interregional variation in pollution levels in studies of the demographic correlates of pollution.

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    File URL: http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/working_papers/working_papers_1-50/WP50.pdf
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    Paper provided by Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst in its series Working Papers with number wp50.

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    Date of creation: 2002
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    Handle: RePEc:uma:periwp:wp50
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    Web page: http://www.peri.umass.edu/
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    1. James T. Hamilton, 1995. "Testing for environmental racism: Prejudice, profits, political power?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 14(1), pages 107-132.
    2. Kenneth Y. Chay & James L. Powell, 2001. "Semiparametric Censored Regression Models," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(4), pages 29-42, Fall.
    3. Powell, James L., 1984. "Least absolute deviations estimation for the censored regression model," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 25(3), pages 303-325, July.
    4. Hamilton James T., 1995. "Pollution as News: Media and Stock Market Reactions to the Toxics Release Inventory Data," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 98-113, January.
    5. Brooks, Nancy & Sethi, Rajiv, 1997. "The Distribution of Pollution: Community Characteristics and Exposure to Air Toxics," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 32(2), pages 233-250, February.
    6. Boyce, James K. & Klemer, Andrew R. & Templet, Paul H. & Willis, Cleve E., 1999. "Power distribution, the environment, and public health: A state-level analysis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 127-140, April.
    7. Manuel Pastor, 2004. "Building Social Capital to Protect Natural Capital: The Quest for Environmental Justice," Working Papers wp11, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
    8. James T. Hamilton, 1993. "Politics and Social Costs: Estimating the Impact of Collective Action on Hazardous Waste Facilities," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 24(1), pages 101-125, Spring.
    9. Seema Arora & Timothy N. Cason, 1999. "Do Community Characteristics Influence Environmental Outcomes? Evidence from the Toxics Release Inventory," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 65(4), pages 691-716, April.
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