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Environmental inequality study finds no direct links to segregation, income

A new study examining two possible factors leading to "environmental racism" finds that although the average black or Hispanic resident of a major U.S. city lives in a more polluted part of town than the average white person, the levels of inequality vary widely between cities and defy simple explanation.

In a study of the 61 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, University of Colorado at Boulder Assistant Professor Liam Downey found that in some cities Hispanics live in the most polluted neighborhoods, but in other cities it is blacks and in still other cities it is whites. Moreover, the degree to which each of these groups is exposed to pollution varies greatly.

The study was published in the May issue of Urban Studies, an international journal for research in urban and regional studies published at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

"The results may surprise people who think that environmental racial inequality is due solely to poverty and residential segregation," said Downey, a sociologist. "Instead, it seems likely that the role these factors play in shaping environmental inequality is highly contingent on local conditions."

Since the term "environmental racism" was coined in 1987, researchers have investigated why minorities are more likely than whites to reside in areas where there is more pollution, with many arguing that environmental racial inequality is due to racial income inequality or residential segregation. In order to determine whether either of these factors produce environmental inequality, Downey compared environmental inequality levels to levels of residential segregation and racial income inequality in each of the 61 metropolitan areas.

Using a measure of air pollutant concentration and toxicity developed by the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate the air pollution "burden" of each neighborhood in each metropolitan area, Downey compared levels of inequality between blacks an
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Contact: Liam Downey
liam.downey@colorado.edu
303-492-8626
University of Colorado at Boulder
9-Jul-2007


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