Is Environmental Justice Good for White Folks? Industrial Air Toxics Exposure in Urban America


  • Helen Scharber,, will share all data and coding for replication purposes. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SES-1060904 and by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship No. FP-917118. The authors are grateful to three anonymous referees for helpful comments and to Rich Puchalsky for excellent database development.

Direct correspondence to Michael Ash, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts, 200 Hicks Way, Amherst MA 01003;



The study examines spatial variation in exposure to toxic air pollution from industrial facilities in urban areas of the United States in relation to the local distribution of the pollution burden.


We conducted between- and within-city analysis of geographic microdata from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators project and data from the 2000 U.S. Census.


Average exposure in an urban area is positively correlated with the extent of racial and ethnic disparity in the distribution of the exposure burden. Average exposures also tend to be higher for all population subgroups, including whites, in urban areas with higher minority pollution-exposure discrepancies.


The correlations could arise from causal linkages in either or both directions: the ability to displace pollution onto minorities may lower the effective cost of pollution for industrial firms; and higher average pollution burdens may induce whites to invest more political capital in efforts to influence firms’ siting decisions. The analysis suggests that improvement in environmental justice could benefit not only minorities but also whites.