California Has Nation’s Highest Percentage of Minorities Living Near Toxic, Hazardous Waste Facilities, Report Finds
In California, 81% of residents who live near toxic or hazardous waste facilities are minorities, the highest concentration nationwide of minorities living near such facilities, according to a report commissioned by the United Church of Christ, the Los Angeles Times reports (Wilson, Los Angeles Times, 4/12). In February, a report found that low-income residents and minorities in the Bay Area of California are more likely to live near power plants, factories and other sources of industrial pollution, therefore making them more at risk for cancer and asthma (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 2/20). The new report is a follow-up to research conducted in 1987. Lead author Robert Bullard, a sociologist from Clark Atlanta University, and colleagues from three other universities examined recent census data for neighborhoods throughout the U.S. that house facilities processing or storing hazardous chemical waste. The waste products are from refineries, metal plating shops, drycleaners, battery recyclers and others. Researchers found that more than 50% of U.S. residents living near the facilities were Asian, black or Hispanic. Ninety-one percent of the 1.2 million people living less than two miles from such facilities in the greater Los Angeles area are minorities, according to the report. The city of Oakland and Orange County in California ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, for most minorities living near hazardous waste sites in major U.S. urban areas, according to the Times. Nationally, although most of the affected communities were low income, some of the areas near hazardous waste sites were affluent minority communities, such as one in Seattle that was predominately Asian.
"The most potent predictor of where these facilities are sited is not how much income you have; it's race," Bullard said. The study suggested stricter Environmental Protection Agency regulation and passage of legislation that would enforce EPA rules. Sue Briggum -- vice president of federal public affairs for Waste Management, which operates several facilities that the study looked at -- said that the hazardous waste industry is regulated for safety, adding that the industry and EPA have taken steps recently to reduce dangerous emissions, improve safety and address other issues. EPA spokesperson Jennifer Wood said that EPA recognizes "that minority and/or low-income communities frequently may be disproportionately and adversely exposed to environmental harms and risks" and tries to address the situation in its budgeting and planning (Los Angeles Times, 4/12).
The report is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.