Two Academic Studies Show That Polluters Target Minority Communities

cover_bigA new study by researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Montana found that companies tended to follow the path of least resistance when locating plants that produced hazardous wastes. Examining 30 years of demographic data, the researchers found that these producers tended to locate facilities in low-income, minority neighborhoods that were less likely to object or have the resources to oppose such facilities.

The authors wrote that “demographic change may represent the weakening of social ties, the loss of community leaders, and weakening of civic organizations. NIMBYism in more affluent, white communities resulted in industry taking the ‘path of least resistance’ and targeting communities with fewer resources and political clout. These communities are where the poor and people of color live.”

Paul Mohai, a professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and a co-author of the study, adds that “contrary to earlier beliefs about post-siting demographic change, neighborhood transition may serve to attract noxious facilities, rather than the facilities themselves attracting people of color and low-income populations.”

The article, “Which Came First, People or Pollution? A Review of Theory and Evidence From Longitudinal Environmental Justice Studies,” was published in the December 2015 issue of Environmental Research Letters. It is available here.

A second study conducted at the University of Maryland finds that the nation’s super polluters tend to be concentrated in minority communities. The research found that 10 percent of the 16,000 industrial facilities studied accounted for 90 percent of the toxic pollution. And these facilities tended to be located in low-income, high-minority communities.

Mary Collins, an environmental sociologist at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry who led the research while serving as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland, stated that “only a small percentage of facilities are responsible for the great majority of environmental harm. And those facilities are sited in some of our most vulnerable high minority, low-income communities.”

“If you’re non-white or poor, your community is more likely to be polluted by arsenic, benzene, cadmium, and other dangerous toxins from industrial production,” Collins added. “What’s new and surprising is that industry’s worst offenders seem to impact these communities to a greater extent than might already be expected.”

The article, “Linking ‘Toxic Outliers’ to Environmental Justice Communities” was published in the January 2016 issue of Environmental Research Letters. It is available here.

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