All the while, thousands of smaller, less prominent but potentially polluted sites go unnoticed, contributing to a much more systemic environmental risk.Based on the research we did for our book, we believe the problem of relic industrial waste is far greater and more vexing than many scholars, regulators and developers appreciate.
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Hazardous industrial sites in Houston’s Inner Loop zone, bounded by Interstate 610.
Sites marked ‘o’ were active sites in 2015; those marked ‘x’ are relic and largely uninvestigated sites where industrial activities took place between 19.
Environmental justice studies that use more limited government data on hazardous sites provide consistent evidence that polluting industries and environmental hazards are more frequently imposed on poor and minority communities.
But our findings suggest that, over time, risks also accumulate over broader areas – including white working-class neighborhoods of yesteryear, lower-income and minority neighborhoods that superseded them, gentrifying areas such as Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties that are now selectively following, and whatever comes after that.
And this complexity has important implications for environmental justice and the question of who lives, works and plays in neighborhoods burdened by relic industrial contaminants.
Communities can’t set priorities for cleaning up contaminated land until they identify relevant sites.According to data recently released by the EPA, in 2017 industrial facilities (excluding mining operations) released 1.1 billion pounds of hazardous waste at the point of production or “on site.” That number is an understatement, because government records rely on voluntary reporting and exclude smaller manufacturing facilities that also pollute.And there is virtually no public documentation of similar releases before the 1980s.And even longtime residents may not know that the 1.5 square miles of densely settled land around the park contains the highest density of former manufacturing sites in Philadelphia.Over the past 60 years, more than 220 factories operated in this same small area.The Conversation is funded by the National Research Foundation, eight universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa.