Environmental Justice: A Contrary Finding for the Case of High-Voltage Electric Power Transmission Lines
Greenberg, Michael R
Journal of exposure science & environmental epidemiology 2010 May; 20(3): 237-44
Environmental justice is the consideration of whether minority and/or lower-income residents in a geographic area are likely to have disproportionately higher exposures to environmental toxins than those living elsewhere. Such situations have been identified for a variety of factors, such as air pollution, hazardous waste, water quality, noise, residential crowding, and housing quality. This study investigates the application of this concept to high-voltage electric power transmission lines (HVTL), which some perceive as a health risk because of the magnetic fields they generate, and also as esthetically unpleasing. We mapped all 345 kV and higher voltage HVTL in New York State and extracted and summarized proximate US Census sociodemographic and housing characteristic data into four categories on the basis of distances from HVTL. Contrary to our expectation, people living within 2000 ft from HVTL were more likely to be exposed to magnetic fields, white, of higher income, more educated and home owners, than those living farther away, particularly in urban areas. Possible explanations for these patterns include the desire for the open space created by the rights-of-way, the preference for new homes/subdivisions that are often located near HVTL, and moving closer to HVTL before EMFs were considered a risk. This study suggests that environmental justice may not apply to all environmental risk factors and that one must be cautious in generalizing. In addition, it shows the utility of geographical information system methodology for summarizing information from extremely large populations, often a challenge in epidemiology.
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