According to the authors of the report, Unequal Exposure to Ecological Hazards: Environmental Injustices in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this is the first study to provide a method for ranking the environmental burden of communities in the state, and to measure their cumulative exposure to environmental hazards of all kinds. The researchers studied power plants, municipal incinerators, toxic waste sites, landfills, and waste transfer stations in cities and towns throughout the state, and neighbourhoods in Boston and Cape Cod.

“An analysis of 370 communities throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reveals that these populations live each day with substantially greater risk of exposure to environmental health hazards,” said Project Director Daniel Faber, Associate Professor of Sociology at Northeastern University. “If you live in a community of colour in Massachusetts, for example, the chances are 19 times higher that you live in one of the 25 most environmentally-burdened communities in the state.”

The researchers found that communities with a median household income of less than $30,000 have an average of nearly seven times as many pounds of chemical emissions from industrial facilities per square mile, and 2.5 times as many waste sites, than communities with a median household income of $40,000 or more. Communities where people of colour make up at least 15% of the population have, on average, four times as many hazardous waste sites as those comprising less than 5% people of colour. Communities with at least 25% people of colour have an average of nearly five times as many pounds of chemical emissions from industrial facilities per square mile.

“Clearly, not all Massachusetts residents enjoy equal access to a clean environment,” said Faber. “Communities most heavily burdened with environmentally hazardous industrial facilities and sites are overwhelmingly minority and lower-income.”

According to the US census information for 1999, the median income for white households in the US as a whole is $42,504, and $44,366 for non-Hispanics, categorised by the Faber report as being of medium-high income. Black and Hispanic households fall into the researchers’ low-income and medium-low categories respectively, with median incomes of $27,910, and $30,735. However, households from Asian and Pacific Islander minority groups in the US fall into the report’s high-income category, with a median income of $51,205.

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