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disproportionate distribution to occur affects the distribution of
minorities disproportionately impacted
place)? Christ's Commission for Racial Justice, Classic economic theory would termed the racial biases in the location predict that poverty plays a role. of these facilities "environmental
Because of limited income and wealth, racism.” Because of its national scope poor people do not have the means to Housing and its strong findings, the
buy their way out of polluted project is
Commission's report became a major neighborhoods. Also, land values tend cheek by jowl turning point in raising public
to be lower in poor neighborhoods, with oil
awareness about the disproportionate and the neighborhoods attract refinery.
burden of environmental hazards on polluting industries seeking to reduce minorities.
the costs of doing business. However, The striking findings of the United the mobility of minorities is Church of Christ study led us to
additionally restricted by housing investigate whether other studies
discrimination, amply demonstrated by existed and to determine whether the researchers to be no insignificant evidence from these studies, taken factor. Then, because noxious sites are together, demonstrated a consistent unwanted (the "NIMBY," or pattern of environmental inequity not-in-my-backyard syndrome) and based on socioeconomic and racial because industries tend to take the factors. We also conducted a study of path of least resistance, communities our own to examine the distribution of with little political clout are often commercial hazardous waste facilities targeted for such facilities: The in the Detroit metropolitan area.
residents tend to be unaware of policy Further, to uncover more information decisions affecting them; they are not
and focus greater attention on this organized; and they lack the resources Copyright Sam Kittner.
issue, in January 1990 we convened (time, money, contacts, knowledge of
political action. Minority communities a participant in the Warren County Hazards at the University of
are at a disadvantage not only in terms protests, to sponsor a nationwide study Michigan's School of Natural
of resources, but also because of in 1987. The study used systematic Resources. (See accompanying article.) underrepresentation on governing and statistically analyzable data to
A question often raised is whether bodies. When location decisions are determine whether the distribution of the bias in the distribution of
made, this underrepresentation commercial hazardous waste facilities environmental hazards is simply a
translates into limited access to policy in minority communities fit the pattern function of poverty. That is, rather makers and lack of advocates for found in the South. It found that it
than race per se, is it not poverty that minority interests. did. Specifically, it found that the
Taken together, these factors suggest proportion of minorities in
that race has an impact on the communities which have a commercial
(Dr. Mohai is Assistant Professor and Dr. distribution of environmental hazards hazardous waste facility is about
Bryant is Associate Professor in the that is independent of income. Thus, double that in communities without School of Natural Resources at the
as part of our investigation, we such facilities. Where two or more University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. attempted to assess the relative such facilities are located, the
Drs. Mohai and Bryant were Co-Principal influence of income and race on the proportion of minorities is more than Investigators of the University of
distribution of pollution. We did so by triple.
Michigan's 1990 Detroit Area Study. examining the results of those In addition, using sophisticated They were also co-organizers of the empirical studies which analyzed the statistical techniques, this study found University of Michigan Conference on
distribution of environmental hazards that race is the single best predictor of Race and the Incidence of
by both income and race. We also where commercial hazardous waste Environmental Hazards held January
assessed the relative importance of the facilities are located-even when other 1990 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Both
relationship of income and race in the socioeconomic characteristics, such as served on the National Advisory
distribution of commercial hazardous average household income and average Committee of the First National People
waste facilities in our Detroit area value of homes, are taken into account. of Color Environmental Leadership
study. The report concluded that it is Summit held October 1991 in
From our investigation, we found 15 "virtually impossible" for this Washington, DC.)
studies that, like the United Church of
Christ study, provide objective and systematic information about the social distribution of environmental hazards. A number of interesting and important facts emerged.
First, an inspection of the publication dates revealed that information about environmental inequities has been available for some time. Rather than being a recent discovery, documentation of environmental injustices stretched back two decades. In fact, information about inequities in the distribution of environmental hazards was first published in 1971 in the annual report of the Council on Environmental Quality. This was only one year after EPA was created, one year after the National Environmental Policy Act was passed, and only one year after the first Earth Day—an event viewed by many as a major turning point in public awareness about environmental issues. There were nine other such
Abandoned industry site abuts on
residential neighborhood in southeast studies published in the 1970s.
Chicago. Clearly, it has taken some time for public awareness to catch up to the issues of environmental injustice.
It is worth noting that most of the studies conducted in the past two income. Also noteworthy is the fact decades focused on the distribution of that all three national studies which air pollution and hazardous waste. looked at both income and race found Clearly, systematic studies of the social
race to be more importantly related to distribution of other types of
the distribution of environmental environmental hazards, such as water hazards than income. pollution, pesticide exposure, asbestos In our own Detroit area study, we exposure, and other hazards are
found that minority residents in the needed. Also worth noting is that these metropolitan area are four times more studies vary considerably in terms of likely than white residents to live scope. Some focused on single urban within one mile of a commercial areas, such as Washington, DC, New hazardous waste facility. We also York City, or Houston; others focused found that race was a better predictor on a collection of urban areas; while of residents' proximity to such still others were national in scope. facilities than income. This is important in that it reveals that Taken together, the findings from the pattern of findings is not an artifact these studies indicate clear and of the samples selected: Regardless of unequivocal class and racial biases in the scope or of the methodologies the distribution of environmental employed, the findings point to a hazards. Further, they appear to consistent pattern.
support the argument that race has an In nearly every case, the distribution additional effect on the distribution of of pollution has been found to be
environmental hazards that is inequitable by income. And, with only independent of class. Indeed, the racial one exception, it has been found to be biases found in these studies have inequitable by race. Where the
tended to be greater than class biases. distribution of pollution has been
Ultimately, knowing whether race or analyzed by both income and race, and class has a more important effect on where it is possible to weigh the
the distribution of environmental relative importance of each, in five out hazards may be less relevant than of eight cases race has been found to understanding how the conditions that be more strongly related than has lead to it can be addressed and
remedied. Currently, there are no
Are some groups receiving fewer
A quarter of a century ago, the Kerner Commission warned, “To continue present policies is to make permanent the division of our country into two societies: one largely Negro and poor, located in the central cities, the other predominantly white and affluent, located in the suburbs and in outlying areas." When that warning was made, EPA had not yet been created and the nation's major environmental laws had not yet been passed. The terms "environmental racism" and "environmental justice” were unheard of. Our study and those of others indicate that current environmental policies have contributed to the division. To know that environmental inequities exist and to continue to do nothing about them will perpetuate separate societies and will deprive the poor, blacks, and other minorities of equitable environmental protection. O
Note: This article is adapted from a
presented papers at the Conference on work their way into policies that
people we met with in Washington, Race and the Incidence of ensure that all Americans can live in
including Congressman John Lewis Environmental Hazards were people of safe, clean, and decent environments. (D-Georgia), and staff members of color. Robert Bullard, Professor of Environmental equity should be the Congressmen John Conyers Sociology at the University of
highest priority for policy makers if (D-Michigan) and Ron Dellums California at Riverside, Beverly Wright, they are indeed interested in
(D-California), the representative for Associate Professor of Sociology at alleviating much of the
the Council on Environmental Quality Wake Forest University, and Charles disproportionate amount of pain and was least familiar with this issue. By Lee, Director of Special Projects on suffering experienced by people in the time we arrived in Washington, Toxic Justice of the Commission of minority and low-income
William Reilly had already sent a Racial Justice of the United Church of communities.
memo to his 12,000 EPA employees Christ, were key in helping us identify A follow-up strategy of the Michigan recognizing Black History Month and other scholars and activists. We also conference was a meeting with key stating more specifically the inherent invited a number of participant
government officials in Washington, value of having a multi-cultural observers from federal and state
DC. A subgroup of conferees sent a workforce reflective of American agencies, such as EPA, the Agency for memo requesting a meeting with Louis society to help ensure an equitable Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, W. Sullivan, Secretary, Department of environmental policy. He also put the Governor's Office of the State of Health and Human Services; William together an internal workgroup to Michigan, the Michigan State
Reilly, Administrator, EPA; and study and report to him on the issues Department of Minority Health, the Michael R. Deland, Chairman, Council raised at the Michigan conference. Michigan Department of Natural
on Environmental Quality. Copies And, on April 9, 1990, at the National Resources, and others.
went to all governors, various state Minority Environmental Career This was the first time that a
legislators, and the Congressional Conference at Howard University, he retrieval/dissemination conference on Black Caucus. In this memo, we
stated: race and the incidence of
proposed to discuss the agencies' environmental hazards was held where involvement in:
Participants in the January 1990
University of Michigan
Conference on Race and the
Incidence of Environmental
Hazards conducted an intensive aspects of this issue, the conference communities
review of environmental risk enabled scholar-activists to come
from a socioeconomic together to share their research
Initiating projects to enhance risk findings and to take steps to communication targeted to minority
perspective. This review pointed disseminate information about this and low-income population groups
out significantly disproportionate
health impacts on minorities due most important issue. The conference
Requiring, on a demonstration
to higher rates of exposure to was not only a major step forward in basis, that racial and socioeconomic
equity consideration be included in
To our knowledge, this was the first it gave national visibility to the debate on environmental equity, thus
Ensuring that a racial and
public recognition by EPA that socioeconomic dimension is overlaid
environmental hazards increasing the awareness of government policy makers and lay on present and future geographic
disproportionately impact people of studies of environmental risk
color and the first time the people alike. As a result, we expect
Administrator had agreed to meet with other scholars of color to take this
Enhancing the ability of issue on as a legitimate area of inquiry. "historically black colleges and
any group made up primarily of
people of color to discuss (For more information about the universities" (HBCUs) and other
environmental equity issues. It was outcomes of this conference and the
minority institutions to participate in also the first time that an EPA environmental equity movement, see and contribute to the development of Administrator put together an internal our forthcoming book, Race and the environmental equity
workgroup to focus directly on these Incidence of Environmental Hazards:
issues. • Appointing special assistants for A Time for Discourse.)
While William Reilly has recognized Although race and the incidence of
environmental equity at environmental hazards was seldom an decision-making levels within agencies
the disproportionate impact of
environmental hazards on people of issue for policy makers before the • Developing a policy statement on
color, and has directed the Agency to conference, this is no longer the case; environmental equity.
address this issue, the proof of the policy makers at multiple levels of
We met with William Reilly and an pudding will be not in the discourse or government are involved in assistant to Michael Deland on
in the report itself, but in tangible and environmental equity discussions. And while these discussions may be September 13, 1990. Because of
productive outcomes. O provocative, they still will have to scheduling problems, we were unable
to meet with Louis Sullivan. Of all the
Despite the numerous laws.
mandates, and directives by the federal government to eliminate discrimination in housing, education, and employment, government has made few attempts to address discriminatory environmental practices. People of color (African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans) have borne a disproportionate burden in the siting of municipal landfills, incinerators, and hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.
Environmental inequities do not result solely from social class factors. The ability to escape a health-threatening physical environment is usually correlated with income; however, racial barriers complicate this process for millions of Americans. African Americans, no matter what their educational or occupational achievement or income level, are exposed to greater environmental threats in their neighborhoods because of their race.
An African American family with an income of $50,000 is as segregated as an African American family on welfare. Institutional racism influences local land-use policies, industrial facility siting, and where people of color live, work, and play.
Waste sites and other noxious facilities are not randomly scattered across the landscape. Waste generation is directly correlated with per capita income, but few garbage dumps and toxic waste sites are located in affluent suburbs. Waste facilities are often located in communities that have high percentages of poor, elderly, young, and minority residents.
The first major empirical study that linked municipal solid waste siting with the race of surrounding residents was conducted in 1979 and chronicled in Invisible Houston: The Black Experience in Boom and Bust. From the early 1920s to the late 1970s, all of the city-owned municipal landfills and six of the eight garbage incinerators were located in African American neighborhoods.
From 1970 to 1978, three of the four privately owned landfills that were used to dispose of Houston's garbage were located in African American neighborhoods. Although African Americans made up only 28 percent of