Unequal Proximity to Environmental Health Risks: An Intersectional Analysis of the Disabled Population in Houston, Texas

Authors: Jayajit Chakraborty*, University of Texas - El Paso
Topics: Environment, Disabilities
Keywords: Disability; environmental justice; pollution; intersectional analysis; Houston
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Grand Ballroom 1, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Second Floor Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper addresses the growing need to analyze the relationship between disability and environmental pollution, as well as contribute to an emerging body of research that recommends an intersectional approach for studying distributive environmental risks imposed on marginalized sub-populations in US urban areas. Harris County, the largest county in Texas which encompasses the city of Houston, serves as the study site for this research. Three different pollution sources are analyzed: Superfund sites on the National Priorities List (NPL), hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal (TSD) facilities, and motor vehicle traffic, using data obtained from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 2013-2017 American Community Survey estimates. Proximity scores are calculated at the census tract level using a novel spatial enumeration methodology developed by the EPA, and statistical analysis is based on multivariate generalized estimating equations. Results indicate that people with disabilities are significantly more likely to reside in neighborhoods with greater proximity to NPL sites and TSD facilities, compared to the non-disabled population. Intra-categorical analysis reveals that non-White disabled individuals are significantly more proximate to these pollution sources than their White counterparts, while disabled people aged 75 or more years are disproportionately located near all three pollution sources. These findings have important policy implications and suggest that disabled individuals are experiencing a form of ‘multiple jeopardy’ defined by the convergence of disability with other social disadvantages such as non-White, poverty, and elderly status, and amplified by their proximity to pollution.

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