Criteria Air Pollution and Marginalized Populations: Environmental Inequity in Metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona


  • *Direct correspondence to Sara Grineski, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX 79968 〈〉. Sara Grineski will share all coding information and data with those wishing to replicate the study. We acknowledge the contributions of Dr. Yu-Jin Choi, an environmental engineer at Arizona State University. Dr. Choi shared her pollution models with us and patiently answered our questions about them. We also acknowledge the assistance of Carol Atkinson-Palombo and Michael Zoldak at Arizona State University. The research reported here was funded by St. Luke's Health Initiatives of Arizona, with additional support from the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) in Urban Ecology at Arizona State University. IGERT is funded by the National Science Foundation. We also thank two anonymous reviewers of an earlier draft of this article for their constructive and informative comments.


Objectives. Our objective is to examine spatial relationships between modeled criteria air pollutants (i.e., nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, and ozone) and sociodemographics in metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona. Modeled air pollution offers environmental justice researchers a new and robust data source for representing chronic environmental hazards.

Methods. We used multiple regression equations to predict criteria pollution levels using sociodemographic variables at the Census block group level.

Results. We find that Census block groups with lower neighborhood socioeconomic status, higher proportions of Latino immigrants, and higher proportions of renters are exposed to higher levels of criteria air pollutants. Proportion African American, however, is not a significant predictor of criteria air pollution in the Phoenix metro area.

Conclusions. These findings demonstrate clear social-class and ethnic-based environmental injustices in the distribution of air pollution. We attribute these patterns to the role of white privilege in the historical and contemporary development of industrial and transportation corridors in Phoenix in relation to racially segregated neighborhoods. Although all people are implicated in the production of criteria pollutants, lower-income and ethnic-minority residents are disproportionately exposed in metropolitan Phoenix.