Race and Environment: In Whose Back Yard?

by Alan Shihadeh

The Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) recently released a
study entitled Toxic Wastes and Race Revisited which revealed that
commercial toxic waste facilities are even more likely to be located
in minority communities now than ever before, despite grassroots
activism and growing national attention to the issue. The CPA found
that people of color are nearly 50 percent more likely than whites to
live near a commercial toxic waste facility, and three times more
likely than whites to live in communities with multiple toxic waste
facilities. Furthermore, they found that from 1980 to 1993, the
concentration of minorities in zip code areas with commercial toxic
waste facilities grew from 25 to 31 percent.
	The CPA study is a follow-up to the 1987 United Church of
Christ (UCC) Commission for Racial Justice study which first
quantified the national racial disparity in the siting of toxic waste
facilities. The 1987 study investigated the relationship between the
location of sites containing hazardous wastes and the racial and
socio-economic characteristics of people living nearby. Using
residential zip code areas as the units of analysis (what they term
'communities') the UCC compared five variables in all areas of the
nation:

1.	Minority percentage of the population;

2. 	Mean household income - to determine whether class was more
	important than race in the location of commercial facilities;

3. 	Mean value of owner-occupied homes - a proxy for determining the
	role of property values in facility location;

4.	 Number of uncontrolled toxic waste sites per 1,000 persons - to
	test whether geographic or historical factors not identified in the
	study such as land use zoning, transportation access, groundwater, or
	soil permeability could explain the location of commercial waste
	facilities;

5. 	Pounds of hazardous waste generated per person - to evaluate
	whether facility location can be explained by proximity to waste
	producers, i.e. commercial waste facility customers.

The residential zip code areas were categorized into four mutually
exclusive groups:

1.	No commercial hazardous waste facilities;

2. 	One commercial hazardous waste facility that is not a landfill;

3.  	One commercial hazardous waste landfill that is not one of the
	five largest in the U.S.;

4. 	One of the five largest landfills, or more than one commercial
	hazardous waste facility.

	The UCC study found that the group of residential zip code
areas with the highest number of facilities also had the highest mean
percentage of minority residents (38%), while the group of zip code
areas without any facilities had the lowest percentage of minority
residents (12%). Groups 2 and 3 also had a significantly larger
portion of minority residents than Group 1 (24% and 22%,
respectively). Of the five variables tested, the most important
predictor of the level of commercial waste activity was minority
percentage of population; that is, as the number of a community's
racial and ethnic residents increases, the probability that some form
of hazardous waste activity will occur also increases. Household
income and the mean value of owner occupied homes were also
statistically significant predictors, but less so than minority
percentage of population. Incomes and home values were an average of
$2,745 and $17,301 lower, respectively, in communities with commercial
waste facilities than their neighboring communities without such
facilities. The other variables considered were not found to be
statistically significant.
	The UCC study was not a single aberration from an otherwise
unsuspect record of commercial hazardous waste facilities. Many
researchers have studied the association between race, class, and
exposure to environmental hazards with strikingly similar
results. Table 1 summarizes the results of every published study,
carried out in the U.S. through 1991, whose purpose was to assess this
association.
	Across a range of hazards and study sample sizes, the results
consistently indicated that environmental hazards were inequitably
distributed; of the 22 studies, 21 found that environmental
discrimination occurs along race or class lines. Among the nine
studies which separated race from class, seven found that race was a
better predictor of exposure to environmental hazards than income.

Discrimination in Regulatory Enforcement?

	One possible reason for the higher incidence of environmental
hazards in minority and poor communities is that regulatory
enforcement is lax there, relative to that in white or affluent
areas. In 1992, The National Law Journal (NLJ) published the results
of a study commissioned to investigate this possibility. The study
looked at all civil cases against violators of federal air, water, and
waste laws concluded between March 1985 and March 1991, as well as the
929 Superfund cases concluded with penalties during the same period.
	Using a demographic analysis of zip code areas similar to that
used in the UCC study, the NLJ found that environmental regulatory
activity was significantly greater in areas which had the lowest
proportion of minority residents:

 Penalties under hazardous waste laws in communities having the
greatest white populations were on average 500% greater than in
communities having the greatest number of minority residents ($335,566
vs. $55,318).

 The average penalty under hazardous waste laws in the lowest
median income areas was 3% greater than in areas with the greatest
income ($113,491 vs. $109,606), i.e. the discrepancy under these laws
occurs by race alone.

 Penalties under all federal air, water, and waste laws were 46%
higher in white areas than in minority areas.

 Abandoned hazardous waste sites in minority areas took 20% longer
to be placed on the National Priority Action List than those in white
areas.

 At hazardous waste sites in communities of color, the EPA chose
containment of hazardous waste 7% more often than the preferred
permanent treatment of the waste, while permanent treatment was chosen
20% more often than containment in areas with the greatest proportion
of white residents.

Working Towards Environmental Equity

	Activists in communities around the country have been forming
a movement to remedy past injustices and promote fairness in local,
national, and international environmental decision making. Among their
demands are that communities be empowered with comprehensive, easily
accessible information to help citizens become informed about the
costs and benefits of sites; that the EPA be required to adopt toxic
facility siting rules which explicitly take into account environmental
equity; and that national standards be established on the issues of
exposure and health monitoring procedures. In addition, members of the
Black Congressional Caucus have pushed environmental equity
legislation which would prevent toxic facility clustering in any
community. So far, only Arkansas has passed legislation that directly
addresses the disproportionate burden of environmental hazards in
communities of color.
	In the face of heavy resistance from national and state
legislatures, the NAACP has set ambitious goals for achieving
environmental equity in the near term: "If this disturbing correlation
still exists at the tenth anniversary of the original report, then the
government, industry, and the environmental justice movement will have
failed the impacted communities... We will work to ensure such an
outcome is not the case in 1997."

Resources for Activists

Bryant Bunyan and Paul Mohai, editors. 1992. Race and the Incidence of
Environmental Hazards: A Time for Discourse. Boulder, CO: Westview
Press.

Bullard, Robert D., ed. 1993. Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices
from the Grassroots. Boston: South End Press.

Bullard, Robert D. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental
Equity. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990.

Center for Policy Alternatives. Toxic Wastes and Race
Revisited. Washington, DC, 1994. (202) 387-6030

Commission for Racial Justice. United Church of Christ. 1987. Toxic
Wastes and Race in the United States: A National Report on the Racial
and Socio-Economic Characteristics of Communities with Hazardous Waste
Sites. New York: Public Data Access.


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