Report Links Race, Income, Environmental Hazards In Massachusetts
By Cat Lazaroff
BOSTON, Massachusetts, January 9, 2001 (ENS) - Massachusetts residents are more likely to live near environmentally hazardous sites and facilities if they are poor or non-white, a new report reveals. The study finds that people of color are 19 times more likely to live in or near contaminated areas than are wealthy White people.
"Unequal Exposure to Ecological Hazards: Environmental Injustices in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" explores whether environmentally hazardous industrial facilities, power plants, municipal solid waste incinerators, toxic waste sites, landfills, and trash transfer stations are unequally distributed with respect to the income and racial composition of Massachusetts communities.
The authors analyzed exposure rates of 370 communities - including cities and towns throughout the state, sub-towns or neighborhoods in Boston, and Cape Cod - to these environmentally hazardous industrial facilities and sites.
The report was written by Daniel Faber, an associate professor of sociology at Northeastern University, and Eric Krieg, an assistant professor of sociology at Buffalo State College.
Faber said the report is the first to provide a method for ranking the environmental burden of communities in the state, as well as the first to measure cumulative exposure to environmental hazards of all kinds in Massachusetts.
Among the study's findings:
The authors used data from the 1990 U.S. Census, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Massachusetts Toxic Use Reduction Institute, as well as data collected from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in the spring and summer months of 2000.
To address the problem, Faber and co-author Krieg recommend that the state of Massachusetts pass an environmental justice law that will ensure equal protection and additional resources for overburdened areas. The state should incorporate environmental justice into all existing regulations, and work to reduce pollution levels across the state, they said.
To prevent the addition of more polluting industries to already overburdened areas, the state should review, and when necessary, halt the provision of economic development incentives for projects in these areas, the authors said. City officials and public health boards should consider issues of environmental justice when making decisions about new development.
Massachusetts community groups said the new report confirms what they have known all along - that the state needs to address pollution disparities.
"Environmental justice is no longer a secret," said Klare Allen, a Roxbury resident and community organizer at Alternatives for Community & Environment, a Roxbury based environmental justice group. "Residents of Roxbury have been working on environmental justice issues for many years without a name for the problem and the numbers to back up the burdens they carry. Why is it that out of the 15 most polluted areas, nine of them are communities of color - that's more than half of those areas."
"This report is the first that we've heard of that talks about the cumulative effects of hazardous waste," said Martha Tai, from the Coalition to Protect Chinatown. "That alone would make it a valuable study, but what is really important to Chinatown residents is that Chinatown is located in the most overburdened area."
State Senator Dianne Wilkerson pledged action to address the problem.
"This report shows what people in my district have known all along: It is no coincidence that low income communities of color are disproportionately selected for the placement of new pollution sources," said Wilkerson. "As a result these communities bear an extraordinarily high environmental and public health crisis associated with the presence of these pollutants. The time has come for the Legislature to put an end to this form of discrimination."
The report is available for download at: http://www.nupr.neu.edu/news/0012/environment.pdf