Developing a holistic-empirical methodology for identifying areas of potential environmental justice concerns: a case study of Jefferson County, Alabama

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University of Alabama Libraries

Environmental justice (EJ) – the belief that everyone, regardless of race, income, or national origin, deserves to live and work in a healthy environment and to be included in decision making processes regarding their environment – has gained an increased presence within popular culture over the past several decades, yet many low-income and minority populations still experience greater environmental burdens than other communities. Despite a broad awareness that environmental injustice proliferates in the United States and throughout the world, and despite numerous attempts by government agencies and various academics, there is not a clear methodology for identifying areas of potential concern in the EJ literature. With pollution data from the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) and demographic data at the census tract level from the Census Bureau on median household income and minority populations, this thesis seeks to fill this gap, by creating a model that recognizes sites of potential environmental injustice using Jefferson County, Alabama, as an example. By utilizing Geographic Information System (GIS) tools and statistical software, relationships between the amount of – and exposure to – pollution and median household income and minority population percentage were either confirmed or rejected. A field survey was also conducted in the three census tracts in Jefferson County with the most pollution to see if any other common factors associated with environmental injustice such as lack of access to healthy foods and medical care were observable. In Jefferson County, minority population percentage, both on its own and in conjunction with median household income, is a weak to moderate but statistically significant predictor of exposure to pollution, and various combinations of other factors associated with environmental injustice were observed in each of the three census tracts analyzed. While this study did not yield definitive results that there are specific instances of environmental injustice in Jefferson County, Alabama, the synthesis of results from the numerous phases of investigation indicates areas of potential concern and that further research needs to be done to both establish inequitable environmental conditions and to further calibrate the model.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Environmental justice, Geography