People of color and people living in poverty, especially poor children of color, are significantly more likely to live near dangerous chemical facilities than whites and people with incomes above the poverty line.
Social inequality in the U.S. has expanded over the past several decades and is linked to poor health, including one-third of deaths in the United States. The median net worth of people of color is just 13 percent of that of whites, and their median income is 60 percent of white incomes. The poverty rate for blacks and Latinos is more than twice that of whites.
There is also compelling evidence that increasing social inequality is linked to environmental degradation and that the health of people of color and those living in poverty is negatively impacted by being exposed to higher levels of environmental pollution than whites or people not in poverty.
A previous report by the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform found that a significantly greater percentage of blacks, Latinos, and people in poverty live near industrial facilities that use large quantities of toxic chemicals, compared to national averages. An earlier study found that larger, more chemical-intensive facilities tend to be located in counties with larger black populations and in counties with high levels of income inequality. It also found a greater risk of incidents at facilities in heavily black counties.
This report builds on that past work and a previous report by the Center for Effective Government that examined the number of children who attend schools located within the vulnerability zones of over 3,400 high-risk chemical facilities that report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Program (RMP). This program encompasses the most dangerous industrial facilities that produce, use, or store significant quantities of toxic and flammable chemicals. Vulnerability zones, which are self-reported by industrial facilities, predict the maximum distance that a worst-case chemical incident could reach; they vary in size from less than one mile to as large as 40 miles.
Since communities in closest proximity to these hazardous facilities would likely suffer the greatest impacts from an explosion or chemical release – and would have the least amount of time to escape these dangers – this report focuses on the demographics of the people living within one mile (the so-called “fenceline zone”) of all 12,545 facilities in the Risk Management Program.
Our Report Findings:
People of color and people living in poverty, especially poor children of color, are significantly more likely to live in these fenceline zones than whites and people with incomes above the poverty line.
- People of color make up nearly half the population in fenceline zones (11.4 million), and they are almost twice as likely as whites to live near dangerous chemical facilities.
- People of color living in poverty are significantly more likely to live in fenceline zones than whites not living in poverty. The greatest disparities are among poor children of color. For example, poor black and Latino children are more than twice as likely to live in fenceline zones compared to white children who are living above the poverty line.
Many children live and go to school near these dangerous facilities.
- More than one-quarter (1.6 million) of children living in fenceline zones are children under the age of five, whose developing bodies are especially vulnerable to toxic exposure should a chemical release occur.
A disproportionate number of chemical facility incidents occur in neighborhoods that are predominately populated by people of color.
- Facilities in communities of color have almost twice the rate of incidents compared to those in predominately white neighborhoods – one incident per six facilities compared to one incident per 11 facilities.
- Over half of U.S. states received a “D” (poor grade) or an “F” (failing grade) in this report’s scorecard. These states have large proportions of people of color and poor people living or attending school within fenceline zones – and these residents are more likely to live in fenceline zones than whites and non-poor residents.
- Two states, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, received an F grade. Twenty-six states, primarily in the Southeast and Midwest, received D’s.
The findings of this report reinforce results from numerous other studies that demonstrate that the health and safety of communities of color and people in poverty are severely and unequally impacted by living in close proximity to hazardous pollution sources and dangerous chemical facilities.
Read more in-depth recommendations in our full report.
- Require use of safer chemicals and technologies when feasible.
- Require formal assessments and mitigation plans by states, counties, or municipalities to gauge the impact of hazardous chemical facilities on fenceline communities, with an emphasis on environmental justice concerns.
- Adopt new zoning laws or revise existing ones to prevent construction of new or expanded chemical facilities near homes and schools and prevent siting new homes and schools near dangerous chemical plants.
- Require large chemical facilities to continuously monitor and report their fenceline-area emissions and health hazards.
- Improve enforcement of existing environmental and workplace health and safety regulations.
Our Full Report: