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Spatial and Temporal Analyses Applied to Understanding Racial Socioeconomic Disparities in the Location of Environmental Hazards

Studies demonstrate that pollution, locally unwanted land uses, and other environmental hazards disproportionately burden low-income and minority communities. However, most studies provide "snap-shot" information about the current distribution of environmental hazards by socioeconomic status and race. They do not explain the processes by which disproportionate environmental burdens occur. Building on a pilot study of commercial hazardous waste facilities in Michigan and the Great Lakes region, this project examines past socioeconomic and racial disparities and changes over time for the full nation. In so doing, it overcomes several difficult methodological problems concerning measurement of geographic location and identification of bi-directional causal influences.<br/><br/>Specifically, the project uses longitudinal data aided by Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to examine demographic and housing variables at or near the time of siting for commercial hazardous waste facilities and transporters for the years from 1970 to 2000. It pays careful attention to identifying accurate locations of the facilities that can be mapped and analyzed using GIS software, and measuring demographic and housing changes that occur before and after the sitings. The results evaluate competing arguments that present-day disparities reflect pre-siting demographic and racial characteristics of communities, or post-siting demographic changes in areas with hazardous facilities and transporters. The results also identify differences in the processes across regions of the nation. These improvements in data and methodology shed light on the processes that produce environmental inequality, and contribute to policies to ameliorate such inequality.

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Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Region.