PHOENIX, Arizona, November 12, 2002 (ENS) - Some of the Phoenix area's poorest neighborhoods also have the region's highest concentration of toxic hazards, conclude two new studies by researchers at Arizona State University (ASU). Bob Bolin and Edward Hackett, sociology professors working with the ASU Center for Environmental Studies, say a clear pattern of association exists in the Phoenix metropolitan area between socioeconomic characteristics, the presence of contamination sites and the volume of emissions. The research finds the higher the median household income is within an area, the less likely those neighborhoods are to have contamination sites nearby.
According to one study, "The Ecology of Technological Risk in a Sunbelt City," published in the journal "Environment and Planning A," hazardous sites are concentrated among low income and ethnic minority neighborhoods of Latino, black and Native American residents in Phoenix. A second companion study, "Environmental Equity in a Sunbelt City," supports the findings by mapping polluting industries in metro Phoenix in relationship to demographic composition of their neighborhoods.
The ASU research points to a social injustice of post-World War II development.
"Metropolitan Phoenix's high hazard corridors reflect a variety of recent planning and zoning decisions that have failed to protect low income and minority residents from the presence of industrial and commercial hazards in their neighborhoods," the study concludes.
The researchers mapped areas of potential risk using data sets for four major types of technological hazards and Superfund sites in Maricopa County extracted from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Right to Know Network.
Bolin, principal investigator of the study, and colleagues Hackett and Amy Nelson, say Phoenix's history of racial segregation has left a pattern referred to in the study as a riskscape.
"The current distribution of hazardous industries in Phoenix is part of an aggregate riskscape that also includes sites of pronounced land and groundwater contamination from military, commercial and municipal polluters," Bolin said. "A majority of these polluted sites are concentrated in or near areas with significant (current or historical) commercial or industrial activity to the south and west of central city."
Bolin said Phoenix differs from older industrial cities cited in previous environmental justice studies because it lacks distinct working class neighborhoods adjacent to factories.
Diane Sicotte, an ASU doctoral student who helped write the studies, said that some of the research examining patterns of social inequalities oversimplifies the issue. The research assumes that if hazardous industry occupied an area before low income minority people moved there, then no inequality exists.
"These are very complex issues to consider because land uses are not race or class neutral," Sicotte said. "However, the oversimplified answer in this instance is that people were clearly there before the industry."
While doing dissertation research on an environmental justice controversy in Phoenix, Sicotte created a map showing the concentration of commercial hazardous waste disposal businesses extending along Phoenix's main rail transportation corridor. Minorities have settled along these corridors since Phoenix was founded.
These types of areas tend to offer the most affordable land, but also, in times of segregation, racial minorities were forced to live south of the Salt River near the railroad tracks, Sicotte said.: