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Racial and socioeconomic disparities in residential proximity to polluting industrial facilities: evidence from the Americans' Changing Lives Study

Publication Abstract

Mohai, Paul, Paula M. Lantz, Jeffrey Morenoff, James S. House, and Richard P. Mero. 2009. "Racial and socioeconomic disparities in residential proximity to polluting industrial facilities: evidence from the Americans' Changing Lives Study." American Journal of Public Health, 99(suppl 3): S649-56.

Background: Concerns about impacts from disproportionate environmental exposures have been a major driving force in mobilizing minority communities into a national “environmental justice” movement. However, methods used in prior studies to assess such inequalities (primarily unit-hazard coincidence approaches using census data) have serious limitations. The purpose of this study was to apply an alternative approach using national survey data to assess racial and socioeconomic differences in exposure to environmental hazards.

Methods: Addresses of respondents in the Americans’ Changing Lives Study were geocoded to produce point locations. In addition, locations were geocoded for polluting industrial facilities in EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. Logistic regression analysis was conducted to investigate whether race and other sociodemographic characteristics were associated with living within 1.0 mile of a polluting facility.

Findings: Black respondents were significantly more likely to live near a facility. This elevated risk persisted after controlling for age, income, education, gender and marital status. Additional analyses revealed that black respondents had an increased risk of living near a polluting facility in only certain geographic regions. Although those making less than $40,000 per year and those without a high school diploma were also significantly more likely to live within a mile of a facility, these outcomes were not found to vary geographically.

Conclusions: This is the first national study to combine sociodemographic information from survey data with environmental data to reveal racial disparities in exposure. This study also makes a methodological contribution and lays a foundation for future research to investigate the relationship between disparities in exposure to disparities in health status outcomes over time.

DOI:10.2105/AJPH.2007.131383 (Full Text)

PMCID: PMC2774179. (Pub Med Central)

Country of focus: United States.

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