Toxic Air Emissions and Race in America: An Examination of the Effect of Race and Income on TRI Emissions
Feetham, Brian Thomas
Environmental Justice (EJ) research on toxic emissions has traditionally focused on the location of toxic emitting facilities in relation to low-income and minority areas. This study explores an area of EJ research that is underrepresented in the academic literature, namely whether facilities in low-income and minority areas emit different amounts of air toxics compared to similar facilities in non-minority and more affluent areas. 2010 Census data and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) for 2010 are used as data sources. Distance based methods are utilized to create “composite local neighborhoods” containing relevant demographic information surrounding TRI facilities. Models are tested for three separate dependent variables from facilities: fugitive emissions, smokestack emissions, and combined emissions. In every model tested for each of the dependent variables, median county income is negatively correlated with toxic emissions, and most of the models tested find the percentage of Black residents in an area surrounding a toxic emitting facility is positively correlated with toxic emissions. In a state fixed effects model for fugitive emissions with controls for industry group and chemical released, a one percentage point increase in median income is associated with a .42 percent decrease in fugitive emissions, and a one percentage point increase in the proportion of the population near a facility that is Black is associated with a .38 percent increase in emissions. These findings, and the lack of research on this specific topic, suggest further research is warranted within the Environmental Justice literature.
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