Public Release: 

Report links race, income with environmental hazards in Massachusetts

Northeastern University

Environmentally hazardous sites and facilities are disproportionately located in communities of color and lower-income communities, according to "Unequal Exposure to Ecological Hazards: Environmental Injustices in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts", a new report by Daniel R. Faber, associate professor of Sociology, Northeastern University, and Eric J. Krieg, assistant professor of Sociology, Buffalo State College.

"An analysis of 370 communities throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reveals that these populations live each day with substantially greater risk of exposure to environmental health hazards," said Project Director Daniel Faber. "If you live in a community of color in Massachusetts, for example, the chances are 19 times higher that you live in one of the 25 most environmentally-burdened communities in the state."

Faber notes that 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. Findings include:

  1. Communities where people of color make up 15 percent or more of the total population average more than four times the number of hazardous waste sites as communities with less than 5 percent people of color.

  2. Communities where people of color make up 25 percent or more of the total population average nearly five times as many pounds of chemical emissions from industrial facilities per square mile, compared to communities where less than five percent of the population are people of color.

  3. Communities with median household incomes of less than $30,000 average nearly seven times as many pounds of chemical emissions from industrial facilities per square mile than communities with median household incomes of $40,000 or more.

  4. Communities with median household incomes of less than $30,000 average nearly 2.5 times more waste sites than communities with median household incomes of $40,000 or more. They also average more than four times as many waste sites per square mile.

"Clearly, not all Massachusetts residents enjoy equal access to a clean environment. Communities most heavily burdened with environmentally hazardous industrial facilities and sites are overwhelmingly minority and lower-income. Governmental action is urgently required to address these disparities," says Dr. Daniel Faber.

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To schedule an interview with Dr. Daniel Faber, please call 617-373-2878. To download a copy of the report, go to www.nupr.neu.edu/news/0012/environment.pdf.

Fact sheet

"Unequal Exposure to Ecological Hazards: Environmental Injustices in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" by Daniel R. Faber and Eric J. Krieg explores whether environmentally hazardous industrial facilities, power plants, municipal solid waste combustors (incinerators), toxic waste sites, landfills, and trash transfer stations are unequally distributed with respect to the income and/or racial composition of a Massachusetts community. The co-authors analyzed exposure rates of 370 communities--including cities and towns throughout the state, sub-towns or neighborhoods in Boston, and Cape Cod--to the types of environmentally hazardous industrial facilities and sites listed above.

The authors used data from the 1990 U.S. Census, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Massachusetts Toxic Use Reduction Institute, in addition to data collected from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in the spring and summer months of 2000.

Class status of a community was determined by median household income: Low income - $0 to $29,999; Medium-low income - $30,000 to $39,999; Medium-high income - $40,000 to $49,999; and High income - $50,000 and greater.

The co-authors' recommendations follow:

  1. The state should pass an environmental justice law that will ensure equal protection and additional resources for overburdened areas.

  2. The Department of Environmental Protection should maintain its moratorium on new landfills and incinerators.

  3. The state should incorporate environmental justice into all existing regulations.

  4. The state should review, and when necessary, halt the provision of economic development incentives for projects that will contribute more pollution to already overburdened areas.

  5. The state should track and monitor environmental disparities.

  6. City officials and public health boards should consider issues of environmental justice in their decision-making processes.

  7. The state should reduce pollution overall and adopt the Precautionary Principle over standard risk-assessment procedures when addressing environmental issues in overburdened communities.

  8. The state should increase the level of resources for the Department of Environmental Protection and the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

Dr. Faber and Dr. Krieg conducted their research under the auspices of the Philanthropy and Environmental Justice Research Project at Northeastern University. Print copies of the report are available for $4.00 each. Please contact Dr. Faber at 617-373-2878.

Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a national research university that is student-centered, practice-oriented, and urban.

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