LIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACKS: AN EXPLORATION OF THE RELATION BETWEEN DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE AND TOXIC SITE EMISSIONS

Luke T. Rogers, University of New Hampshire, Durham

Abstract

Minority and low-income groups are significantly more likely to live in areas with a greater distribution of toxic sites and harmful emissions. While the importance of race and income as predictors of toxic site proximity have received significant support in the literature, substantial theoretical and methodological questions remain regarding toxic site emissions, demographic change, and the influence of transportation infrastructure. To address these gaps in the literature, the current dissertation investigates the relationship between toxicity weighted emissions and demographic change at the census tract level between 1980 and 2010 while controlling for the presence of railroads. Spatially weighted least squares regression models predict higher weighted emissions in tracts with higher proportions of non-Hispanic white residents. However, further investigations reveal that tracts with dense clusters of TRI sites near railroads had higher proportions of minority residents – tracts where the minority population grew between 1990 and 2010 and the non-Hispanic white population decreased over the same period. These findings highlight the difference between the seen and unseen. Toxicity weighted emissions, which are often unseen, shifted from tracts with visibly high densities of TRI sites near railroads in 1990 to areas with low densities of TRI sites near railroads in 2010. These shifts occurred in tandem with substantial growth of the non-Hispanic white population in tracts with low densities of TRI sites near railroads and a simultaneous decline in tracts with high densities of TRI sites near railroads. In addition, tracts with low densities of TRI sites near railroads had lower poverty and unemployment rates when compared to tracts with higher densities of TRI sites near railroads. Results suggest that non-Hispanic white movers have been relocating to places with high levels of invisible toxic emissions and away from places with high densities of visible, often less toxic, sites. In contrast, the minority population grew in all types of tracts, but most rapidly in places with no emissions.