April 30, 2001
Study looks at which came first: Toxics or minorities
Which came first, minority neighborhoods or toxic
storage facilities? A new study of metropolitan Los Angeles documents that
neighborhoods that were selected to house toxic storage and disposal
facilities (TSDFs) were more minority, poorer, and more blue-collar than
census tracts that did not receive TSDFs.
The study charts the arrival of all
high-capacity TSDFs in Los Angeles County against changing neighborhood
demographics over the 1970, 1980, and 1990 census surveys. Titled
"Racial/Ethnic Inequality in Environmental Hazard Exposure in Metropolitan
Los Angeles," the research was
conducted by Manuel Pastor, a professor of Latin American and Latino
studies at UCSC, and was sponsored by the California Policy Research
|Manuel Pastor, a professor of Latin American and
Latino studies, studied toxic storage and disposal facilities in Los
Angeles County. Photo: r. r.
Simple comparisons looked at the character of an area before a TSDF
siting and the demographic and other shifts that occurred in the years
after a siting, as compared to the rest of the county. Subsequent complex
statistical exercises confirmed that the racial/ethnic makeup of a given
neighborhood mattered in the timing of a TSDF siting, while a similar
analysis of demographic changes offered no evidence that TSDFs attract
Pastor's previous research established that TSDFs were concentrated in
minority communities in Los Angeles as of 1990. As similar research
results have accumulated, some people have suggested that perhaps the
disproportionate concentration of toxic hazards in minority neighborhoods
is not the result of discrimination in siting decisions but is rather a
matter of minorities choosing to move into neighborhoods with toxic
facilities, perhaps in search of lower housing costs.
"Our study looks back over time to answer the question 'Which came
first? Toxics or minorities?' and our results are clear: Minorities don't
want to live next door to toxic facilities any more than anyone else,"
said Pastor, director of UCSC's Center for Justice, Tolerance, and
Community. "Our study documents that these potentially hazardous
facilities are much more likely to end up in poor and minority
neighborhoods than in well-to-do white areas. There's a clear role for
policy makers who want to do better in the future."
In addition to being more minority, poorer, and more blue-collar, the
neighborhoods that got TSDFs had lower initial home values and rents, had
significantly fewer home owners, and had a significantly lower percentage
of college-educated residents, suggesting to Pastor that educational
skills and an informed populace might play a key role in resisting the
placement of hazards.
"Numerous studies have shown that minority residents in California,
particularly in southern California, are bearing a disproportionate share
of the burden of living near environmental hazards and pollution," said
Pastor. "Coupled with new evidence that these facilities 'chase'
minorities and the poor, rather than the other way around, policy makers
have a clear role to play in creating a more equitable distribution of
environmental hazards in our communities."
The four policy recommendations outlined in the report are:
Bring more community members into the environmental planning process by
improving outreach efforts and reforming representation structures,
especially the local assessment committees for toxic facilities, to
include more residents from immediately affected areas. The provision of
information by state agencies about both the nature and location of
hazards should be improved. Higher levels of participation and community
involvement early on in the decision-making process will help to reduce
conflicts and lawsuits while improving business-community
2. Develop rules to protect communities that are
likely to be too weak to launch effective participation efforts. For
example, a simple regulation that no new facility would be allowed that
would worsen current levels of inequality by race or income in the
distribution of hazards--a conservative measure that would allow the
current disparities to persist as long as they did not grow larger--would
have prevented or changed the siting of nearly half of the TSDFs that came
into Los Angeles County between 1970 and 1990. Collecting demographics on
areas targeted for siting could trigger a higher level of review and allow
government, business, and community organizations to go beyond the current
hazard-by-hazard, neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach.
compensate communities for the current pattern of hazard distribution,
focus efforts on cleaning up existing facilities, developing economic
recovery strategies, and ensuring that any taxes and other mitigations go
directly to the localities affected.
4. The state should develop a
broad environmental justice mandate, as required by SB 115, which was
passed into law in late 1999, and encourage new research on the
demographic patterns and health risks of various environmental hazards. SB
115 designates the Office of Planning and Research as the coordinating
agency on environmental inequity and directs the California Environmental
Protection Agency to develop a model environmental justice mission.
"There's a lot we can do now to help protect the state's most
vulnerable and contaminated neighborhoods," said Pastor. "California has
been proud to lead the nation in environmental protection, and this is our
chance to take a similar leadership role in environmental justice."
The California Policy Research Center, sponsor of the report, was
established in 1977 as a research and public-service program charged with
applying the extensive research expertise of the University of California
system to the analysis, development, and implementation of public
Return to Front Page