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

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  • T. Robert Fetter
  • Michael Ash

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • T. Robert Fetter & Michael Ash, 2002. "Who Lives on the Wrong Side of the Environmental Tracks? Evidence from the EPA's Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators Model," Working Papers wp50, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
  • Handle: RePEc:uma:periwp:wp50
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    File URL: https://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/working_papers/working_papers_1-50/WP50.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    4. 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.
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    6. 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.
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    8. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Francisco Lara-Valencia & Sioban Harlow & Maria Carmen Lemos & Catalina Denman, 2009. "Equity dimensions of hazardous waste generation in rapidly industrialising cities along the United States-Mexico border," Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 52(2), pages 195-216.
    2. Jennifer A. Ailshire & Philippa Clarke, 2015. "Fine Particulate Matter Air Pollution and Cognitive Function Among U.S. Older Adults," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 70(2), pages 322-328.
    3. Banzhaf, H. Spencer & Walsh, Randy, 2006. "Do People Vote with Their Feet? An Empirical Test of Environmental Gentrification," Discussion Papers dp-06-10, Resources For the Future.

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