Howard University, Dept of Anthropology & Sociology

Environmental Justice: A Brief Historical Analysis

0
- By:

Courtesy of Howard University, Dept of Anthropology & Sociology

Untitled Document

There is, by now, a large body of research that suggest that poor people and people of color are more likely to live in polluted areas (neighborhoods with poor air quality, communities in close proximity to hazardous waste and solid waste dumps (Szasz & Meuser 2000). Some studies have failed to find such inequalities (Anderton et. al. 1994). Even where inequalities exist, the process that produce them have only just begun to be studied systematically and are, thus, now, yet well understood. Researchers agree that addressing the problem of environmental inequality requires understanding the processes that occur over time to create unequal exposure to environmental risk. Looking at previous studies on environmental inequality/justice from a historical analysis this paper addresses how such inequalities have been created and why they continue to exist today.

Scholars have offered many solutions as to why environmental inequalities have developed and persist. In this paper, we argue that African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos have been overburdened with nearby hazardous waste facilities (TSDF's) including: incinerators, petrochemical plants, lead contamination, dirty air, and contaminated drinking water because companies have presumptuously located or built these facilities close to their communities. We also argue that these locally unwanted land uses (LULU's) are not randomly distributed. As many companies have sought out poor and minority communities where opposition is low to unload their toxic waste or house their pollution industrial facilities, residents have now begun to assemble to fight for their right to live in a clean and healthy environment.

Looking first at urban environmental history, we attempt to gain an understanding of how we progressed from a rural agricultural base to a more urban industrial powerhouse with the construction of cities. Next we define three working terms: environmental inequality, justice, and racism in order to have a clear concept and understanding of how they are used interchangeably among scholars and activist. We then shift our focus to the evolution of the environmental movement to find out what caused the uproar among poor and minority communities. Looking at race and class as the two main factors in determining or predicting where potential pollution sites are located, we attempt to find evidence supporting this assumption.

Following the race and class factors, we analyze previous literature on environmental inequality/justice/racism to support our argument. We then look at air quality in the United States and the hazards of lead exposure in poor and minority communities as supporting examples of our argument.

This study does not pretend to represent an exhaustive analysis of either the nature of environmental justice/inequality/racism. It is a brief historical analysis of environmental inequality and the environmental justice movement which may be found useful in some future study of environmental sociology.

Urban Environmental History

Environmental history is youthful, but growing by leaps and bounds. Through interested for decades, historians made the environment a central concern of historical study only in the late 1960's and early 1970's.1 By 1990, the pursuit of environmental history had matured to the point that the Journal of American History featured a number of its most prominent practitioners in a roundtable discussion about its prospects.2 Environmental history, it seemed, had come of age, ready to be introduced to the larger society of mainstream historical fields. But the centerpiece of the roundtable called for environmental historians to examine more closely, and almost exclusively, agroecology-the methods of producing food for human consumption and ruled out pertinence of cities to the matter.

Defining the mission in strict agricultural terms and setting its course unswervingly forward, the country quickly drew criticism from urbanist.3 They argued that even with a cursory examination of cities, cities will eventually expose their relevance to the environment and its history. They also argued that the effects of building cities will be long-term and potentially hazardous to the populations living within them. City building required extensive modification of ecosystems and created new landscapes. City living indeed stressed resources. City administration produced legislation and public works to control the consequences of urban growth. City work generated new types of relationships between nature and people. Moreover, this was just one side of the story. How did “nature” react to all of this? How did the nonhuman world respond to urbanization? Cities, they argue are more than just worthy subjects for environmental history; they are integral to the understanding of environmental change. One need only to point to William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis to illustrate the potential and power of their position.4 Urban historians have pointedly and successfully tackled environmental topics, most notably with investigations into water and pollution. But their inquiries departed from an interest in the problems of the city, not the environment.

Defining Environmental Inequality/Racism/Justice

Most scholars who use the terms environmental inequality or environmental racism/justice do so with little attention to how they define these concepts, and they often use them interchangeably. My first task is to operationalize or define these terms so that we may have a shared understanding of the basic sociological concepts so casually use in our debates. The term, environmental inequality, is often used less frequently. According to David Pellow (2000), environmental inequalities are produced or occur when different stakeholders (people of the communities, community organizations, and/or TSDF's) struggle for access to scarce resources within the political economy and the benefits and cost of those resources become distributed unevenly. Moreover, those stakeholders who are unable to effectively mobilize resources are most likely to suffer from environmental inequality. And conversely, those stakeholders with the greatest access to scarce resources are able to deprive other stakeholders from that same access. Pellow (2000) also argues that environmental inequality focuses on broader dimensions of the intersection between environmental quality and social hierarchies. Environmental inequality also addresses more structural questions that focus on social inequality (the unequal distribution of power and resources in society) and environmental burdens (Pellow 2000). A rare effort to define the other terms occurs in Bryan Bryant's (1995) book Environmental Justice. He defines environmental racism as follows:

“It is an extension of racism. It refers to those institutional rules, regulations, and policies of government or corporate decisions that deliberately target certain communities for least desirable land uses, resulting in the disproportionate exposure of toxic and hazardous waste on communities based upon prescribed biological characteristics. Environmental racism is the unequal protection against toxic and hazardous waste exposure and the systematic exclusion of people of color from decisions affecting their communities.” (p.6)

Environmental racism is an example of an environmental injustice (an environmental injustice occurs when a particular social group-not necessarily a racial/ethnic group-is burdened with environmental hazards). From a social movement perspective, environmental racism is what activist are fighting against. But what are they fighting for? That brings us to environmental justice. Again, Bryant's (1995) clarification is useful here:

“Environmental justice (EJ)… refers to those cultural norms and values, rules, regulations, behaviors, policies, and decisions to support sustainable communities where people can interact with confidence that the environment is safe, nurturing, and productive. Environmental justice is served when people can realize their highest potential … EJ is supported by decent paying jobs; quality schools and recreation; decent housing and adequate health care; democratic decision-making and personal empowerment; and communities free of violence, drugs, and poverty. These are communities where both cultural and biological diversity are respected and highly revered and where distributed justice prevails.” (p.6).

Evolution of the Environmental Justice Movement

Throughout the 1970's, there were scattered reports in the social science literature that environmental hazards are unevenly distributed, they disproportionately impact the poor and people of color (Szasz & Meuser 2000). The environmental justice movement can probably be traced from a 1978 protest of Warren County, North Carolina residents, over a polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) dump. A handful of landmark studies done in the mid-1980's focused discussion on race, especially African Americans (Bullard 1983); (Commission for Racial Justice, United Church of Christ 1987); (U.S. General Accounting Office 1983). Throughout the 1980's more minority antitoxins groups organized. Their efforts were aided by a body of research that showed excess minority environmental burden. A 1990 University of Michigan conference on “Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards” pressured the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish an Office of Environmental Equity that same year (Brown 1995). The 1991 People of Color Summit held in Washington expanded the environmental justice movement further. In 1992, Mohai and Bryant published the first and subsequently very influential review of the literature. They reviewed about fifteen studies of both kinds of inequality and race was generally found to be the more important determinant of excess risk.

These studies helped spur the formation of a new force in the environmental movement, the Movement for Environmental Justice. The movement's synthesis of civil rights and environmental frameworks has brought new segments of the public to environmental action and has, more generally, infused environmentalism with new energy. Its claims and perspectives have been endorsed by formal political actors, notably the Clinton Administration.5

Some recent studies, however, suggest a far more complex picture. In some instances, the class and race claims of the Movement (and earlier studies) are supported; in others, only social class indicators, such as income and occupation, prove significant; in others, no clear relationship is found (Anderton, et al, 1994). Such findings do not disconfirm a relationship between social class and race and differential exposure to environmental risk; they do suggest that the relationship is very complex and that more research is needed.

According to Dr. Robert Bullard (1999), one of the pioneering scholars and activist in the environmental justice movement, “the environmental justice movement over the last ten years has really matured onto developing policies and issue statements and working on issues ranging from housing, transportation, and health to economic development, community revitalization.” “I think that the mere fact that we have a number of environmental justice centers around the country now that are working with communities—not organizing communities—but working with, in support of and providing technical assistance and training, we've been able to do something that no one thought we could do 10-15 years ago and that's really making a difference when we talk about working across disciplines and geographic, racial and economic spectrums, we're the most powerful and that's when we are the strongest.”

Race and Class

Out of the activism of people and organizations in affected minority communities, the movement now widely termed “environmental justice” has become the leading approach within the toxic waste movement, itself the fastest growing social movement in recent years (Szasz 1994). The toxic waste movement is composed of working class and lower middle class activist, with a predominance of women. Activists usually have no prior political or environmental involvement, although minority activist are likely to have had some civil rights political background.(Brown & Ferguson 1995) Health concerns predominate among these toxic activists (1995). Environmental justice developed from a civil rights tradition and a grassroots democratic urge, rather than out of mainstream environmentalism; yet it has also affected the larger environmental movement (Gottlieb 1993).

Most research on environmental justice demonstrates that race and class are important determinants of environmental exposure and environmental health effects (Brown 1995). In a majority of cases, race is more significant than class (1995). Different areas show different minority groups (Blacks, Hispanics) to be affected, through Blacks are most typically overexposed to hazards (1995).

Proximity to Prospective Hazards

Prospective sitting (the placement of LULU's) hazards are perhaps the clearest example of potential unequal treatment. But in practice, sittings are not done with regard to equality. The 1982 protests against the sitting of a PCB landfill in Warren County, North Carolina were the beginnings of the environmental justice movement, as mentioned earlier. Bullard (1990, pp. 52-54) found that three of the four Texas Department of Health permits issued for new landfills in Houston were in predominately black areas. As noted previously, a 1984 report for the California Waste Management Board recommends that industry and government search for “lower socioeconomic neighborhoods” for new waste facilities because they are less likely to organize opposition (Roque 1993).

But generally, this area has not received rigorous research attention of the sort discussed above with regard to existing facilities. There have been numbers of case studies concerning sitting decisions, and in all these cases the communities facing sitting are Black, Latino, or Native American (Bullard 1993).

Literature Review

In poor urban areas, serious environmental problems arise in and around people's homes, often creating hazards (McGranahan & Songsome 1994). Inadequate sanitation and insect infestation are all correlated with urban poverty and the lack of environmental services (1994). Environmental inequality focuses on broader dimensions of the social hierarchies. Environmental inequality also addresses more structural questions that focus on social inequality (the unequal distribution of power and resources in society) and environmental burdens. A recent study from 1990 – 1995, by Hockman and Morris (1998) found that the relationship that exist between socioeconomic factors and the sitting of sources of environmental pollution has focused primarily on race and income. Using both census and time-based data from multiple sources, including pollution, rates of cancer and low birth weight in the state of Michigan by the zip codes that distinguished, using a multivariate model; the effects of race, income and other land use characteristics on: 1. The location of different sources of pollution, 2. Progress toward clean up of contaminated waste and 3. How pollution is associated with measures of public health. By tracking the clean-up status over a five year period of hazardous waste sites across the State of Michigan , Hockman and Morris(1998) also attempted to show that factors in addition to race and income are powerful in the prediction of sitting. The population under study is the 873 Michigan zip codes, which had a population at the time of the 1990 U.S. Census. Six types of pollution sources were enumerated for each of the 873 zip codes. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, the total population of Michigan was 9,295,297; 16.5 percent of this population was minority. Blacks accounted for the largest segment of the minority population (84% of the minorities; 14% of the total Michigan population). These figures represented individuals. As the population count was sorted into their own respective zip codes, Hockman and Morris found that the minority percentage ranged from 0 to 99 percent, with an average of 7.2 percent minorities per zip code. Looking at the state of environmental toxicity in the State of Michigan , Hockman and Morris came to two conclusions. First, race still matters. Correlating the median household income and ratio of minorities to whites with each of the six pollution site measures, Hockman and Morris found that in every instance, the race variable was significantly correlated with pollution measures: as the number of minorities relative to the number of whites increases, so does the number of pollution sources. The consistency of results found for each and every environmental hazard used in this study underscores the prevalence of race and racially related characteristics as predicators of where the environmental hazards are located. Hockman and Morris argued that race matters in that the pollution source with which minority status is most closely associated, the presence of incinerators, is also the pollution source most closely associated with detrimental public health in terms of both cancer rates of new reported cancers and in terms of higher rates of low birth weight. The second conclusion by Hockman and Morris was that: although race matters, other factors matter as well. If planners and policy makers are to have a clear understanding of how sources of environmental toxins are sited then, other factors such as land value, change in land use and industrial history are going to have to be taken into account.

Looking at a different perspective, David Pellow, (2000) argues that there are a number of conceptual, theoretical, and methodological issues in the literature on environmental justice and environmental justice and environmental inequalities that need refinements. Using a case study, Pellow uses data from the recycling industry to propose an environmental inequality formation (EIF) perspective to address these issues. The EIF perspective synthesizes three major points that have been neglected in research on environmental inequalities: (a) the importance of process and history, (b) the role of multiple stakeholder relationships, and (c) a life-cycle approach to the study of hazards. The EIF model uses a sociological approach to suggest that environmental racism and inequalities originate and emerge in a more complex process than has been previously explored. Using a case study to propose his environmental inequality formation (EIF), Pellow looks at the recycling industry in Chicago operated by Waste Management Inc. (WMI). As African American workers were routinely exposed to occupational hazards, they argued that their plant manager “has this philosophy about recycling, but has no philosophy about humans!” Pellow interviewed many workers and found that, while sorting through garbage, many had been accidentally stuck by used hypodermic needles, and sprayed with battery acid, paint thinner, ink and dyes. Pellow asked how could this have happened in a recycling industry, a sector that would most likely exhibit some environmental, if not social, responsibility? Was it simply a case of corporations exploiting low-wage African American Workers? Pellow argues that although the corporation is definitely responsible for creating these deplorable working conditions, the history of recycling in Chicago suggest that the process whereby WMI's recycling center was built is more complex.

After a through investigation, Pellow found that in 1995, the city of Chicago embarked on a large-scale municipal recycling program that became known as the “Blue bag.” Through the Blue bag program, WMI and the city had residents place their recyclables in blue plastic bags that were then collected along with trash in the same garbage trucks. The garbage was then taken to material recycling and recovery facilities (MRRF's) – operated by WMI where the bags were removed and separated manually. The manual sorting of trash and recyclables was performed by dozens of African American workers. Pellow then investigated how and why the Blue bag had been introduced. First he concluded that the Blue bag was created because of environmental organizations and the fact that Chicago 's incinerator ash constituted hazardous waste. And second because of the availability of a willing corporate partner. As the city agreed to shut down the incinerator, industry stepped in to support recycling. What Pellow also discovered was that as WMI was awarded the recycling contract, they were also the parent company of the firm that had operated the city's incinerator and was in this way maintaining control over waste disposal in the city. The third major reason for the choice of a large-scale recycling program was the need for the creation of new jobs.

What Pellow found curious was that several local community-based organizations that had been fighting WMI in Chicago for years decided to support the Blue bag program. One local organization, Communities United for Justice (CUJ), had been fighting what it viewed as environmental racism within WMI's operations because of the location of its landfill and chemical waste incinerator. Located in African American neighborhoods, CUJ had held several public protests against the company. According to Pellow, for many years, CUJ's diagnosis of the problem was “too much pollution and not enough good jobs”- a slogan taken up by many other environmental justice fighters as well. When WMI announced that it was finally going to address the issue of “jobs versus the environment” dilemma by building a recycling facility that would hire local residents, CUJ and several other organizations lent their support. As a result, Pellow argued that many environmental justice movement organizations ironically have complicity in the reproduction of environmental inequality among workers from their own communities.

Pellow argues that environmental inequalities are produced or occur when different stakeholders struggle for access to scarce resources within political economy, and the benefits and costs of those resources become distributed unevenly. Moreover, those stakeholders who are unable to effectively mobilize resources are most likely to suffer from environmental inequality. And conversely, those stakeholders with the greatest access to scarce resources are able to deprive other stakeholders from the same access. And finally, the EIF indicated that it is much more insidious because it is the mechanism whereby interlocking systems of inequality serve to divide and conquer stakeholders who may be potential allies (Pellow 2000).

Szasz and Meuser, (2000) looked at historical studies to explain how such inequalities are generated over time. With the use of 1990 Census and 1989 Environmental Protection Agency Toxics Release Inventory data, Szasz and Meuser looked at environmental inequalities of class and race in Santa Clara , California . Szasz and Meurer looked at earlier censuses and historical land use data generated from a series of demographic and industrial maps spanning 30 years, 1960 to 1990. The first is a static, point-in-time map that displayed data for a specific year and the “change” or “transition” maps that displayed the direction and amount of change between 2 years with the value of certain variables. They also looked at existing local histories, planning reports, and other documents to help interpret the maps and to describe the county's economic, residential, and demographic development. What they found was that the environmental inequalities observed in 1990 were not the result of intentional sitting decisions, but were rather a result of the combination of several “normal” processes: economic boosterism, unregulated development, and racial and ethnic differences in education, occupation, and income.

Looking at the area's history, census figures and Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), air emission data showed clear evidence of environmental inequality in Santa Clara County as of 1990. Szasz and Meuser also found that TRI facilities are most likely to be located in tracts with median annual household incomes between $20,000 and $40,000.

Residential differentiation began as a result of the growth and unregulated development of the county to the explosive industrialization, and particularly with the growth of the high-tec industry. The complex intersection of race and class stratification manifested again to sort the people of Santa Clara residentially by (income, Occupation). Szasz and Meuser surveyed 2,837 employees at five semiconductor firms and found that White men held roughly 40percent of all jobs. They were also disproportionately located in the best-paid categories: 87 percent of professional and managerial positions were held by White men, as were 62 percent of the technical and crafts positions. White women held 33 percent of all jobs. They filled 72 percent of the clerical positions and about half of the assembly jobs. White Spanish speaking and Asian women had about 20 percent of all jobs. They were employed almost exclusively as assemblers. They found that several studies during the 1970's confirm that racial discrimination was, unsurprisingly, widespread in the county (Szasz and Meuser 2000). Finally, Szasz and Meuser (2000) concluded that the inequalities were the inevitable side effects, the social geographical expression, of broader processes of rationalization that determine people's occupational prospects, income, and more generally, life opportunities.

Over the past decade, the concept of “environmental justice” has captured the attention of activist and policy maker's alike (Sadd et. al. 1999). Advocates have argued that low-income and minority communities in the United States host a disproportionate share of environmental hazards (Bullard, 1990, 1996; United Church of Christ [UCC], 1987), especially hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities (TSDF's), and hazardous waste landfills. In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) responded to these concerns by establishing an Office of Environmental Justice. In 1994, President Clinton issued an executive order requiring each federal agency to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States” (Executive Order 12898, 1994).

The pattern of disproportionate proximity to hazards by race partly reflects the impacts of past economic development (Sadd et. al. 1999). As many studies have shown (Anderton, Anderson, Rossi et. al., 1994; Szasz & Meuser, 1997), environmental hazards tend to be related to past and current patterns of industrial activity, and one reason for the correlation between race and risk is the tendency of minorities to live in older industrial area (Sadd et. al 1999). As the environmental justice movement has gained stature and legitimacy in light of supporting research ( Clark 1997), many minority neighborhoods have become reluctant to further lower environmental standards in exchange for uncertain promises of employment. Given this combination of environmental, legal, and political challenges, developers may hesitate to locate new business in a needy but polluted area; as a result, preexisting patterns of “environmental racism” can also generate differential future incomes by race, exacerbating the inequality that plagues U.S. cities (Sadd et. al. 1999).

Sadd et. al.(1999) examined the patterns of proximity to environmental hazards by ethnicity in one of America 's largest and most unequal metropolitan areas: Los Angeles . Sadd et. al.(1999) used a variety of techniques, including geographic information systems (GIS) mapping, univariate comparisons, and logit, ordered logit, and tobit regression analysis. The focus was on the distribution of airborne release of hazardous and toxic chemicals from manufacturing facilities, as recorded in the U.S. EPA Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). They investigated four primary questions: (1) What is the geographic distribution of TRI facilities in the southern California region? (2) How does the geographic distribution of TRI facilities correlate spatially with demographic, socioeconomic and land use factors stressed by environmental justice proponents and other researchers? (3) What is the level of significance of the correlations when considered in the context of a multivariate model? And (4) What is the relationship between these demographic variables and relative degrees of toxicity or amounts of releases?

What Sadd et. al. (1999) found was that there is indeed evidence that minority areas are subject to hazardous air releases than are their White counterparts. This relationship, initially explored through both mapping and bivariate analysis, generally was also found to be true even when resident income, local land use, population density, and other relevant factors were considered.

Empirical Evidence on Environmental Inequality

Although environmental justice concerns are relatively new to the public agenda, for decades scientists have documented the disproportionate exposure of poor communities and communities of color to pollution (Ringquist & Clark 1999). These inequalities arise across all environmental mediums. Early studies found disproportionate exposure to air pollution, ‘water pollution,' pesticides and other toxic chemical,” and in overall measures of environmental quality. “More recently, when studying environmental equity at the state, county, and municipal level, James Lester and David Allen (1974) find racial inequities in exposure to eleven of fourteen sources of environmental pollution. “In the most comprehensive assessment to date, John Hird and Michael Reese (1998) found positive and significant relationships between the percentage of nonwhite residents in counties and the concentration of 19 of 29 types of pollution (Ringquist & Clark 1999). These authors also found significant associations between race and 9 of 10 indicators of pollution severity.”6

Most of the research regarding environmental inequity focuses on the location of noxious facilities, particularly hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (Ringquist & Clark 1999). In 1983, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed the location of the four commercial hazardous waste landfill in EPA's region IV(the Southeast region). The average minority population of this region was 20 percent, but these hazardous waste landfills were located in communities where racial minorities made up between 38 and 90 percent of the local population. Moreover, the mean poverty rate found in these communities was significantly higher than the regional average. The GAO concluded that there was enough evidence to warrant concern about inequities in the sitting of these facilities. “Other studies have reached similar conclusions regarding the distribution of noxious facilities in Baton Rouge , 16 Detroit ,” Florida , 18 Houston ,” Los Angeles ,” and South Carolina .”

As noted previously, a nationwide investigation on the location of hazardous waste facilities were initiated by the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial justice (CRJ).7 In examining the location of every commercial hazardous waste facility in the country, the CRJ found that as the percentage of poor and minority residents of a neighborhood increased, so did the likelihood that the area contained a facility. An update to the CRJ report reached similar conclusions. “Although neither of these studies was subject to the rigors of peer review, several scholarly investigations largely reinforce their conclusions. For example, when investigating the location of more than 500 commercial hazardous waste facilities, Vicki Been (1995) found that these facilities were significantly more likely to be located in census tracts with large numbers of Black and (especially) Hispanic residents.8 Moreover, when the population under investigating is expanded to include all hazardous waste facilities regulated under RCRA, there are positive and significant relationships between the concentration of minority residents and the distribution and density of these facilities.” Finally, when investigating the distribution of every facility across the country that releases pollutants, Evan Ringquist (1996) found that they are significantly more likely to be located in zip codes with large poor and minority population.” Actual emissions of toxic pollutants are higher in poor and minority areas as well.”

Not all research documents a positive relationship between the location of hazardous waste facilities and the racial characteristics of neighborhoods (Ringquist & Clark 1999). For example, sociologists at the University of Massachusetts compared the demographics characteristics of census tracts that had commercial facilities with contiguous census tracts that did not, and found no relationship between race, poverty, and facility location. ”James Hamilton (1995), compared the characteristics of neighborhoods where commercial hazardous waste facilities planned to expand their capacity with neighborhoods whose hazardous waste facilities had no plans for expansion and found that racial and class attributes did not differ substantially these neighborhoods.9 A study Clean Sites, Inc.(1990), concluded that rural hazardous waste sites are not located in poor minority area.” While John Hird found that Superfund sites (the most dangerous subsets of abandoned hazardous waste sites) are actually located in countries with higher than average personal incomes and low numbers of minority residents.” Finally, the GAO (1983) examined almost 300 non-hazardous waste landfills and found that for most of these facilities, the percentage of poor and minority residents living near the landfills was no different than the county average (i.e., there was no relationship between race, class, and landfill location).10

While these studies question the contention that hazardous facilities are located in poor and minority communities, Vicki Been (1997) demonstrates that the anomalous findings of Anderton et. al. (1994), Are the results of a curious and perhaps inappropriate method of sample selection.

Air Quality in the United States

In the United States , excluding Alaska and Hawaii , higher percentages of both African Americans and Hispanics live in areas with reduced air quality than do whites (Wernett & Nieves 1992). For example, 52 percent of all whites live in counties with high ozone concentrations; for African Americans, the figure is 62 percent, and for Hispanics, 71 percent. According to the Wernett & Nieves (1992), these differences in potential exposure to pollutants may be due in part to minority population distribution across regions. Hispanics, for example, are more concentrated in the West, where there is greater tendency than elsewhere for the population as a whole to be exposed to high levels of ozone.

However, the different regional concentration of population groups do not account for all of the differences in their potential exposure to reduced air quality.

Wernett & Nieves reported in 1990, that 437 of the 3,109 counties and independent cities in the United States failed to meet air quality standards. Of these counties, 136 had excessive levels of two or more pollutants, and one exceeded standards for five pollutants. We asked the question: To what extent do the proportions of Whites, African American, and Hispanics living in these counties differ? Wernett & Nieves (1992) found that 57 percent of all Whites, 65 percent of African Americans, and 80 Percent of Hispanics live in the 437 counties with substandard air quality. Out of the entire population, a total of 33 percent of Whites, 50 percent of African Americans, and 60 percent of Hispanics live in the 136 counties in which two or more air pollutants exceeded standards. Wernett & Nieves (1992) also reported that the percentages living in the 29 counties designated as non-attainment areas for three or more pollutants are 12 percent of Whites, 20 percent of African Americans, and 31 percent of Hispanics. Finally, 5 percent of Whites, 10 percent of African Americans, and 15 percent of Hispanics live in the seven counties that exceed standards for four or more pollutants (Wernett & Nieves 1992).

Wernett & Nieves 1992, also found that regardless of the number of pollutants that exceed standards, lower percentages of poor people (from all population groups) are potentially exposed to substandard air quality than percentages of either African Americans or Hispanics. This is noteworthy because both African Americans and Hispanics have above-average percentages of their populations with incomes below the poverty line.

Air-polluting facilities are not evenly distributed over the four regions of the country or between urban and rural counties. Almost half of the nearly 3,000 major air-polluting facilities nationwide are in the South, followed in order by the North Central, West, and Northeast regions (Wernett & Nieves 1992). Of these air-polluting facilities, 63, percent are in urban (Metropolitian Statistical Area) counties. Of all U.S. counties considered urban, only 12 percent have high percentages of minorities (greater than 31 percent), but these high-minority counties contain 21 percent of all urban facilities. Thus, the air-polluting facilities are disproportionately concentrated in counties with high percentages of minorities (Wernett & Nieves 1992). Specifically, among urban counties, those with high minority population concentrations have more than twice as many air-polluting facilities as those with below-average (less than 14 percent) minority population. (1992).

Wernett & Nieves 1992 concluded that air quality trends and the distribution of air-polluting facilities analyses tell the same story: Minorities live in greater concentrations both in areas with above-average numbers of air-polluting facilities and in air-quality problem area.

Perspectives on the Hazards of Lead Exposure

We now turn to yet another example of environmental inequality, the hazards of lead exposure. According to The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Report to Congress in 1988, 49 percent of African American inner-city children are exposed to dangerous levels of lead, compared to 16 percent of White inner-city children. Outside the nation's large urban areas, 36 percent of African American children are exposed to dangerous levels, compared to 9 percent of White children. This disparity continues to exist.

Lead poisoning, while completely preventable, is one of the most common environmental health diseases in the United States (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 1988). Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that harms almost all body organs, particularly the kidneys, red blood cells, and central nervous system (Phoenix 2000). Lead exposure is particularly harmful to children. In young children, lead retards the development of the central nervous system and brain. In the United States , more than 20 million children age six and younger have toxic levels in their bodies (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 1988). Although various health effects of high lead exposure have been recognized for several decades, recent medical studies show that lead causes irreversible neurological damage in infants and young children at far lower exposure levels than previously believed (Maas et. al. 1998). Medical studies have shown that blood lead as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter (pg/dl) can pose a significant health risk for children (Maas et. al. 1998).

Childhood lead poison is the number one environmental health risk in industrialized countries today (Needleman et. al. 1998). It can damage there developing brains and nervous systems (Phoenix 2000). Indeed, even low-level lead exposure can lead to attention disorders, learning disabilities, and emotional disturbances that can affect a child for the rest of his or her life (Phoenix 2000). While once controversial, the effects of lead poisoning have now gained wide acceptance within the public health field (Needleman et. al. 1992; Dietrich et. al. 1987; Baghurst et. al. 1987). Even tiny amounts of lead can cause reduced IQ, reading and learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and behavior problems (Phoenix 2000). As a result, childhood lead poisoning is associated with lower educational achievement, higher rates of high school drop out, and increased behavior problems (Needleman 1997). It is estimated that lead poisoning has tripled the number of children needing special education.

Lead is often found in water, especially in homes with faucet fittings made of brass or pipes with soldered joints. Today, most children poisoned ingest lead contaminated household dust. This dust is created when lead paint deteriorates from age, exposure to elements, from water damage, friction, or during home renovation.

Today, the problem of lead poisoning is still a very serious issue. Estimates show that between four to five million U.S. children are routinely exposed to lead in significant amounts, which can be considered hazardous to their health. African American children in low-income communities are estimated to be up to nine times more likely to be exposed to lead than other racial/socioeconomic groups (Schwartz and Levin 1992). The following empirical investigations look into previous research that the poor and minority communities suffer from exposure to environmental toxins. Environmental Inequality is a topic which seeks to enlighten laypersons about the harmful effects of environmental toxins and lead poison in particular; and at the same time shows that even with the current knowledge about these effects, elevated blood levels are still not a major concern for inner city residents.

Other Lead Hazard Studies

Binder et. al. (1996) reported that a high proportion of pre-school children have apparently not been screened for lead exposure and that most dwellings where pre-school children live have not been tested for lead paint. This study was designed to estimate the percentage of young children in the United States who have been tested for lead and the percentage of dwellings in the United States in which the paint has been tested for lead. Using a national random digit dial telephone survey of 5238 households from April 28 – September 18, 1994, a 95 percent confidence interval for outcomes of interest were calculated. With a 56.1 percent response rate, 5,238 of the households, 1116 contained one or more children under the age of 7, for a total of 1,626 children in this age group. Of 1,626 children ages 0 through 6 years, 395 were reported to have been tested for lead exposure. Of these, 505 (8.9%) were reportedly tested for lead. Overall, 7.7 percent (CI 5% to 10.4%) of tested homes (which was extrapolated to 662,337 homes nationwide) were reported to have tested positive for lead paint. Pre-1960 homes were reported to have tested positive for lead paint 14.1 percent of the time (CI 8.4% to 19.7%), in contrast to 5.7 percent (CI 1.3% to 10.1 %) of homes built from 1960 to 1979 and 2.3 percent (CI 0 to 5.8%) of homes built in 1980 or later. Analysis of households with children under 7 years of age showed that children from homes that had been tested for lead paint were more likely to have been screened for lead poisoning. Of 160 homes that had been tested for lead paint, 80 (49.3%) were reported to include at least one child who had been screened for lead poisoning, while only 195 (21.0%) of the 888 homes that had not been tested were reported to include one or more children who had been tested (P<0.01). Among the homes with young children, of the 13 in which lead paint had been found, 10 (88%) had at least one child who had been screened for lead poisoning, while only 70 (45.3%) of the 147 homes for which paint testing results were negative had one or more children who had been tested (P<0.05). Multivariate modeling confirmed regional differences in lead screening of children as well as higher frequencies of screening in children from the lowest income category and those living in rental units. The presence of children in the household and location in the Northeast were the strongest adjusted predictors for testing of homes for lead paint (Binder et. al 1996).

Despite the recent recommendations for universal screening, the survey conducted by Binder et. al suggests that only about 24 percent of children ages 0-6 years have been screened for lead. Even among children living in the highest risk, pre-1960 homes, only an estimated 29 percent have been screened.

In another study by Lanphear et. al (1998), looked at community characteristics associated with elevated blood lead levels in children and determined whether these characteristics can be used to identify children with elevated blood lead levels. Using community characteristics of 653 census block groups in Monroe County , New York , Lanphear et. al. used the following community level variables to associate increased risk of elevated blood lead levels in children: residents within the city; block groups with a higher proportion of individuals of Black race; higher screening rate; lower housing value; houses built before 1950; higher population density; higher rates of poverty; lower percent of high school graduates; and lower rates of owner-occupation housing. They also compared the community characteristics with clinic-based individual risk assessment to identify children with elevated blood lead levels. Their findings concluded that community characteristics could be used to develop screening strategies to identify children who have elevated blood lead levels.

What they also found was that the mean blood lead level of children and the percent of children having a blood lead level of 10 (mu)g/dL or higher increased as the percent of the population that was Black or Hispanic rose, and as poverty increased. Increased crowding, older age of housing, and the screening rate also were associated with higher blood lead levels. In contrast, higher blood lead levels were inversely associated with levels of education, income, and home ownership.

Lead-contaminated house dust is a significant contributor to lead intake among urban children who have low-level elevations on blood lead. Lanphear et. al., (1996) in a different study, assesses the relationship between lead-contaminated house dust and urban children's blood lead levels. Using a random-sample survey to identify and enroll 205 children 12 to 31 months of age, who had resided in the same house since at least 6 months of age, Lanphear et. al. used children's blood and households dust, water, soil, and paint to analyze for lead, and interviews were conducted to ascertain risk factors for elevated blood lead (>=10 (mu)g/dL).

Lanphear et. al. showed that the children's mean blood lead level was 7.7 (mu)g/dL. In addition to dust lead loading (micrograms of lead per square foot), independent predictors of children's blood lead were Black race, soil lead levels, ingestion of soil or dirt, lead content and condition of painted surfaces, and water lead levels. For dust lead standards of 5 (mu)g/sq ft, 20 (mu)g/sq ft, and 40 (mu)g/sq ft on no carpeted floors, the estimated percentages of children having blood lead levels at or above 10 (mu)g/dL were 4 percent, 15 percent and 20 percent, respectively, after adjusting for other significant covariates.

In this study, Lanphear et. al. concluded that settled, lead-contaminated house dust is an important contributor of lead to children who have low-level elevation of blood lead (i.e., > 10 (mu)g/dL) and indicates that a substantial proportion of children have blood lead levels in excess of 10 (mu)g/dL at dust lead levels considerably lower than current HUD post abatement clearance standards and EPA guidance levels. Therefore, these data suggest that the dust lead standards for floors and interior windowsills should be lowered to adequately protect children.

In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selected Baltimore , along with Boston and Cincinnati , for 1 of 3 soil lead studies with standardized protocols and an EPA oversight expert panel. For the Baltimore study, the hypothesis was that a clinically important reduction in children's blood lead (0.14-0.29 pmol/L) would result from reducing soil lead by 1000 parts per million (ppm) or more. In this longitudinal study, Farrell et. al. (1998) randomly selected two Baltimore neighborhoods (study and control-based on (1) sufficient children (N= 187) to test the hypothesis(birth rate and census data), (2) areas of exposed soil around homes, (3) pre-1950 urban housing away from major industries or highways, (4) comparable demographics (census data), and (5) moderate risk for lead exposure (census tracts in which more than 4 children had hospitalization for lead poisoning in the 4 previous years were excluded to avoid unrelated lead reduction interventions). In the study area, contaminated soil was replaced with clean soil. Farell et. al. found one year post abatement that blood lead levels in both groups fell below baseline, but there was no significant effect of soil abatement on children's blood lead. Differences between the treatment and control groups were not significant in any of the crossectional models or longitudinal models. Finally, Farrell et. at. Concluded that The Baltimore Lead in Soil Project results provide evidence that soil abatement of individual residential properties has no impact on the blood lead levels of children at the soil lead levels encountered. Soil abatement is clearly less important than addressing the problem of lead-based paint in this setting. However, as the Boston study showed, soil abatement may be useful where soil lead levels are higher (Weitzman et. al 1993).

Home abatement is the environmental intervention most commonly mandated by law for children with lead poisoning. Previous studies of abatement efficacy, however, have yielded inconsistent results and have left doubt the long-term effectiveness of this intervention in reducing children's blood lead levels. In this study, Rich et. al., (2001) analyzed 488 children six years old or less who had been reported to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services from 1993 to 1997 with blood lead levels of 30 to 44 micrograms per deciliter (mu)g/dL); each of the children analyzed also had a follow-up blood lead test at least two months after abatement if an abatement was completed, or two months after baseline if an abatement was not completed. Records of blood lead test were obtained from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services for all children who had elevated blood lead (above 20 (mu/g/dL) and for all children who had any blood taken an analyzed for lead at the state laboratory between January 1, 1993, and December 31, 1997. Also were obtained were all lead-poisoning environmental abatement records for the period January 1, 1993, to July 6, 1998. The purpose was to compare change in blood lead levels among the children in homes that received abatement to the change among those in homes that did not receive abatement.

Rich et. al. reported that among neighborhood characteristics, there were significant differences between the two groups. The proportion of people receiving public assistance and the proportion of houses built before 1950 differed significantly for children in abated and unabated homes, although the proportion of people receiving public assistance was quite low in both groups. The two groups appeared to differ little with respect to the proportion of people with a high school diploma, population density in the neighborhood, proportion of vacant houses, and median household income.

The findings by Rich et. al suggested that lead paint abatement in New Jersey and in many jurisdictions with similar regulations are of limited efficacy in reducing children's blood lead levels from an initially reported range of 30 to 44 (mu)g/dL. Blood lead levels however, did fall substantially in both groups of children, probably reflecting reduced hand-to-mouth activity as the children grew older, parents educated as a result of clinical and public-health encounters, and almost certainly, some regression to the mean.

The influence of lead exposure in children's development and later success is well documented (Needleman et. al., 1990; Bellinger et. at., 1887; White et. al., 1993). The risk for lead poisoning is greatest in poor, urban, and minority communities and between 18 and 36 months of age (Pickle J, Brody, Gunter E, et. al. 1994; Kramer R, et. at. (1994; Sargent J, Brown MJ, Freeman JL, et. al. 1994).

In a retrospective cohort study, Brown et. al, (2001) assessed the risk in addresses where children had been lead poisoned (blood lead level >= 25 (mu)g/dL). In the past, at least one subsequently resident child had a blood lead level of 10 (mu)g/dL or greater. This study was conducted in adjacent areas in 2 states in the northeastern United States . A listing of all addresses with lead poisoned children (blood lead level >=25 (mu)g/dL) identified between May 1, 1992, and April 30, 1993, was generated from the lead screening registries (N = 183). The census tract of each address was identified, and data associated with community level risk for lead poisoning, including the number of children younger than 7 years, the percentage of Black residents, mobility, the number of households receiving public assistance, the age of housing, and tenancy, were extracted from the 1990 census STF 3A file (Sargent J, et. al. 1999; Bailey AJ, et. al. 1990-91). In all, 679 test results from children 6 years or younger were recorded during the study period. Brown et. al. found that in both groups, the median venous blood lead levels for the children were 7.6 (mu)g/dL (+/- 4.8; n= 11) and 8.9 (mu)g/dL (+/- 7.2; n= 547) for the strict and limited enforcement addresses, respectively (P= .02). Brown et. al. concluded that despite differences in the assessed value; the exterior conditions of the buildings were very similar. The groups differed by the number of addresses with painted, wooden exteriors and the number of addresses where interior windows had been replaced, both factors related to enforcement. Finally, this study suggests that strict enforcement of lead poisoning prevention statutes is an effective primary prevention strategy.

Summary & Evaluation of Past Literature

The poorest among the nation's inhabitants are being poisoned at an alarming rate (Bullard 1983). Many of these individuals, families, and communities have little or no access to regular healthcare. They are among the millions of people with no health care insurance and no financial means to get even basic help (1983). Vunerable populations such as the elderly, the indigent, children, the unemployed, people of color, single parents, and the disabled are ignored in classic epidemiology (1983).

Much of the above research supports the presumption that poor people, minorities, and people of color suffer exposure from pollution of nearby hazardous waste sites, incinerators, petrochemical plants, lead contamination, dirty air, and contaminated drinking water. After analyzing previous studies on environmental justice and inequality, we concluded that LULU's and health risk are not randomly distributed. Moreover, supporting evidence shows that minorities and people of color are almost 50 percent more likely than White citizens to live in communities with hazardous waste facilities and also more likely to live near industrial facilities that either emit or use toxic chemicals (Bullard 1983).

Finally, we have clear evidence that many environmental hazards are distributed inequitably with respect to race and class (Ringquist & Clark 1999). It is equally clear that the issue of environmental justice has significantly changed the context of environmental policy in the late 1990's (1999). Both federal and state governments have responded to the concerns of the environmental justice movement. With Executive Order issued by President Clinton in 1994 (Executive Order no. 12,898) which directs all federal agencies to consider environmental justice in their decision-making processes, we should see some improvement in the near future.

Discussion & Conclusion

Because of the cycle of poverty, racism and ill health, the underprivileged will drain the public health systems while the root causes of their health problems remain. The solution lies in the realm of environmental justice for all Americans.

We have attempted to evaluate two important arguments among environmental scholars today. First, we have considered the argument that there has been systematic bias in the location or sitting of hazardous waste facilities (TSDF's) in poor and minority communities Second, we have analyzed the possibility that these TSDF's have not been randomly distributed and that they have a disparate impact on people living in these communities Our analysis has evaluated several studies on environmental justice/inequalities over the last 20 years. In these analysis we confirm our assumption that African American, Native Americans, and Latino communities are overburdened with nearby TSDF's and that these waste facilities are not randomly distributed. Data from previous studies clearly shows that TSDS's are disproportionately located in poor and minority communities through out the United States .

Unequal exposure to toxics is not a simple question of purposeful bias in location of hazards, nor a matter primarily amenable to the actions of regulatory agencies. Pollution distribution also stems from industrial change, shifts in race and class composition of communities, and by suburbanization. The environmental justice framework goes beyond hazard exposure and remediation, and views environmental quality in a comprehensive manner. This encompasses housing, land use, industrial planning, health care, sanitation services, economic disinvestment, infrastructure decline, deteriorating housing, poverty, and unemployment (Bullard 1993; Mohai & Bryant 1992).

Institutional research has failed to address the “justice” question of who gets help and who does not, who can afford help and who cannot, why some contaminated communities get studied while others are not, and why industry poisons some communities and not other (Bullard 1983).

A national policy is needed to begin addressing environmental inequalities. Federal legislation is also needed to protect at-risk communities against environmental hazards. The Commission for Racial Justice was instrumental in convincing Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and Senator Al Gore (D-TN) to sponsor the “Environmental Justice Act of 1991,” a bill currently under debate in Congress (Bullard 1990).

Today, environmental justice advocates are in support of clean production. What clean production means is changing the way things are made and what goes into the manufacturing of products. This type of production will hopefully save a lot of headaches for communities that are surrounded by polluting industries. Many environmental justice advocates argue that clean production goes hand in hand with environmental justice.

The future of environmental justice lies in the fact that every human being on planet earth has some involvement rather indirectly of directly.

References

Customer comments

No comments were found for Environmental Justice: A Brief Historical Analysis. Be the first to comment!