Monday, March 30, 2009

Environmental Inequalities

Szasz and Meuser provided a literature review of the research developed to address connections between the socioeconomic class of communities and their proximity to facilities that treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste. The review also addressed the connections of the historical aspects in that may connect the environmental inequalities to social inequalities.
One study that was conducted using demographics of communities that were in close proximity to large commercial waste landfills. Another used zips codes to compare pollution in communities that contained TSDFs and those that did not. Although these reports showed that many for the communities identified in the studies may have had a higher number of minorities it was not conclusive in identifying that this was an act of environmental racism. Early studies were conducted that took a socioeconomic perspective which identified that in general poorer neighborhoods (which usually had higher populations of minorities) had higher concentration pollution in the air. These studies showed that those who lived in urban areas, which included higher populations of African Americans; were more likely to be exposed to higher levels of pollution. This connected exposure to pollutions not a race issue but social class.

More recently studies focused on quantitative/geographic analysis of two kinds of facilities; such as sold waste sites, hazardous waste sites, TSDF’s and/or pollutants emitted by operating plants. Many of these sites, approx 1000 are listed on a Superfund’s National Priorities List but this list only identifies sites that are considered to by a serious threat. These studies showed that there continues to be a connection to the economic class and the exposure to pollutants. In looking at the studies statistically, there is a higher count of minorities in poorer neighborhoods however this does not conclusively prove that this is a race issue.

All of these studies have several different variables that could be applied which limited their weight. When looking at the aspects as to when, why and where industries are established then we can begin to get a general understanding of the evolution of the neighborhoods that surround the sites and plants. Sites are picked for various reasons from the access to transportation lines and sources of raw materials but also reasons that are seen as targeting that particular population including economic depression which creates a willingness to accept the hazards for employment and prospects of stabilization (109). The samples of the population that were studies was noted to exclude the rich or those that incomes were $150,000 or higher. Is this because they have the resources to ensure their exposure to pollution is limited or that it furthers the positions of the poor in political projects and class struggles. To acknowledge this would be admitting that there is a class continues to be the great divider in the U.S.

I think that this article supports the necessity to look at the historical pieces of environment issues. It also strengths the idea that addressing environmental issues as a social injustices and class struggles will get more movements involved.

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to environmental segregation, often the cause is camouflaged. For example, public schools in the state of Michigan are almost perfectly segregated in some areas. This is NOT the result of deliberate policy. Rather, it is a consequence of demographic shifts post Brown V. Board.

    However, class in the United States is often divided along racial lines. This gap is closing but still exists in a very real way.

    The presence of pollutants in areas heavily populated by minorities should be thought of in a similar way. It was not the direct policy of governing bodies, but it is still a result of racial inequalities.

    How do we confront issues like this? I'm not sure. Affirmative action seems to be an appropriate response, but only if it is divided along class lines. As was alluded to in class last week, only the wealthiest of African Americans reap the benefits of affirmative action as is. I believe it was UC Berkeley that discovered 80% of the students that received affirmative action benefits were of families with incomes exceeding 200 K annually. Obviously, this is not the desired effect of the program.