The riskscape and the color line: examining the role of segregation in environmental health disparities

Environ Res. 2006 Oct;102(2):181-96. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2006.05.007. Epub 2006 Jul 10.


Environmental health researchers, sociologists, policy-makers, and activists concerned about environmental justice argue that communities of color who are segregated in neighborhoods with high levels of poverty and material deprivation are also disproportionately exposed to physical environments that adversely affect their health and well-being. Examining these issues through the lens of racial residential segregation can offer new insights into the junctures of the political economy of social inequality with discrimination, environmental degradation, and health. More importantly, this line of inquiry may highlight whether observed pollution--health outcome relationships are modified by segregation and whether segregation patterns impact diverse communities differently. This paper examines theoretical and methodological questions related to racial residential segregation and environmental health disparities. We begin with an overview of race-based segregation in the United States and propose a framework for understanding its implications for environmental health disparities. We then discuss applications of segregation measures for assessing disparities in ambient air pollution burdens across racial groups and go on to discuss the applicability of these methods for other environmental exposures and health outcomes. We conclude with a discussion of the research and policy implications of understanding how racial residential segregation impacts environmental health disparities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Continental Population Groups
  • Environmental Exposure* / adverse effects
  • Environmental Health*
  • Humans
  • Mortality
  • Prejudice*
  • Public Policy
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • United States