Issue Date: February 26, 2007
University of Michigan researchers now think they have answered a long-standing chicken-and-egg question: Which came first, the hazardous waste facility or the poor, minority community surrounding it?
Over the past 20 years, environmental justice scholars have argued that such facilities have been disproportionately sited in politically powerless, poor, minority neighborhoods. Others have claimed that the hazardous waste facility came first, and the demographics of the area shifted as the richer white population fled.
Using more refined methods than the older census-tract methodology, Paul Mohai, a professor of natural resources and the environment, and Robin Saha, a former postdoctoral scholar, have been able to show that minorities were living in the areas before the facilities arrived.
Although demographic changes leading to more minority-centered neighborhoods did occur after the facilities arrived, these changes had already begun before the facilities came, Mohai says.
"I think my findings are important because they tend to support the claims of the environmental justice movement that poor, minority communities are targeted for things like hazardous waste facilities and other kinds of locally unwanted land uses," Mohai tells C&EN. "They also suggest that there ought to be some consideration given to monitoring and managing the siting process so that poor communities of color are not overburdened with facilities that they don't want."
Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would force the Environmental Protection Agency to implement former president Bill Clinton's 1994 environmental justice executive order that mandates correction of environmental inequities.
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