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Environmental justice: frequency and severity of US chemical industry accidents and the socioeconomic status of surrounding communities
  1. M R Elliott1,
  2. Y Wang2,
  3. R A Lowe3,
  4. P R Kleindorfer4
  1. 1Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, USA
  2. 2Biostatisics Analysis Center, University of Pennyslvania School of Medicine
  3. 3Center for Policy and Research in Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, and Division of Medical Informatics and Outcomes Research, Oregon Health and Science University, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, University of Pennsylvania
  4. 4Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M R Elliott
 Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 612 Blockley Hall, 423 Guardian Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA;


Study objectives: The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 requires that chemical facilities in the US with specified quantities of certain toxic or flammable chemicals file a five year history of accidents. This study considers the relation between the reported accidents and surrounding community characteristics.

Design: This study is a retrospective analysis of the association between the demographics of counties in which facilities are located and the risk of accidental chemical release and resulting injuries at those facilities. The “location risk” (the risk that a facility having large volumes of hazardous chemicals is located in a community) and “operations risk” (the risk of an accident itself) are investigated.

Setting:1994–2000 accident history data from 15 083 US industrial facilities using one or more of 140 flammable or toxic substances above a threshold level. Demographic makeup of 2333 counties surrounding these facilities was determined from the 1990 US census.

Main results: Larger and more chemical intensive facilities tend to be located in counties with larger African-American populations and in counties with both higher median incomes and high levels of income inequality. Even after adjusting for location risk there is greater risk of accidents for facilities in heavily African-American counties (OR of accident = 1.9, 95% CI = 1.5 to 2.4).

Conclusions: Further research and policy interventions are required to reduce the probability of locating facilities in an inequitable fashion, as well as health surveillance, and regulatory monitoring and enforcement activities to ensure that hazardous facilities in minority communities prepare and prevent accidental chemical releases to the same standards as elsewhere.

  • SES, socioeconomic status
  • MARS, major accident reporting system
  • RMP, risk management programme
  • FTE, full time employees
  • environmental justice
  • environmental health
  • chemical risk

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