Which came first: people of colour or pollution?


Broad Channel, Jamaica Bay, New York. Photo by Arthur Tress, 1973. Wikimedia Commons.

A pair of new publications focus on the “chicken or egg” question in environmental justice: Are present-day disparities around hazardous sites the result of a pattern of placing hazardous waste sites, polluting industrial facilities, and other locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) disproportionately where poor people and people of color live? Or are they the result of demographic changes that occur after the facilities have been sited?

Both papers are recently published in the open-access journal Environmental Research Letters. One paper is a review and synthesis of earlier studies. The second is an original national-level analysis that attempts to answer the chicken or egg question using the distance-based methods the authors described in their 2006 article in Demography and which were also employed in Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty. The evidence points to a clear pattern of disproportionately placing hazardous waste facilities in people of colour communities at the time of siting, the first national-level study to do so.

Mohai, P., & Saha, R. (2015). Which came first, people or pollution? A review of theory and evidence from longitudinal environmental justice studiesEnvironmental Research Letters, 10(12), 125011.

Mohai, P., & Saha, R. (2015). Which came first, people or pollution? Assessing the disparate siting and post-siting demographic change hypotheses of environmental injustice. Environmental Research Letters,10(11), 115008.

This post was written by Paul Mohai and originally appeared on the EnviroSoc listserv (ENVIROSOC@listserv.neu.edu) 12/30/15.