Environmental (in)justice and unequal burden: Race, income, and solid waste sites in Houston
Since the 1980s, the environmental justice (EJ) movement, academics, and advocates have raised much awareness for EJ issues and concerns. Many EJ studies have found that environmental burdens such as waste sites, polluting industries, and other locally unwanted land uses are disproportionately located in low-income communities and minority communities. The goal of this study was to examine the location of Greater Houston’s municipal solid waste landfills (MSWLs) in relation to community race/ethnicity and income. The Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was the chosen study area based on prior EJ study findings and concerns. Data for MSWLs was acquired from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) online databases. Data for racial/ethnic and income characteristics was acquired from the U.S. Census Bureau online databases. ArcGIS software was used to manage the data and analyze the location of the Houston MSA’s MSWLs and the racial/ethnic and income characteristics of nearby communities. The results of the analysis suggest that MSWLs in the Houston MSA are located in predominantly Hispanic/Latino communities, Black/African American communities, non-Hispanic White communities, lower-income and middle-income communities. Many communities across the nation endure an unequal burden from living near waste sites. There is significant importance in further study of the populations that live near MSWLs for both environmental justice concerns and public health concerns. Although state and federal environmental regulations aim to limit pollution, environmental pollution caused by MSWLs cannot be completely eradicated. MSWLs present numerous public health concerns for nearby communities including potential for air, land, and water contamination. There is a need for future research to examine the effects MSWLs have on nearby residents’ health and quality of life.