Risk-based targeting: identifying disproportionalities in the sources and effects of industrial pollution

Am J Public Health. 2011 Dec;101 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S231-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300120. Epub 2011 Aug 11.


Objectives: I assessed the distribution of relative health risk from industrial air pollution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the extent to which risk was disproportionately attributable to a minority of facilities.

Methods: I spatially linked data on airborne emissions, health risk, and sociodemographics by census tract, coupling disproportionality measurements from 2 perspectives: the health risk borne by communities and the harms produced by individual polluters.

Results: Of Milwaukee's 307 census tracts, 90 warranted the highest environmental justice concern. Striking variations in risk production existed between industrial polluters. Of 299 facilities with reported emissions, 30 (10%) contributed 90% of all health risk.

Conclusions: This research adds to an emerging body of work connecting environmental health risk, environmental justice, and corporate responsibility. Findings support the hypothesis that relatively few heavy polluters create most environmental health risk. Environmental policy often devotes insufficient attention to such outliers, in part because of the questionable assumption that pollution is economically necessary for jobs or essential products. Increased emphasis on risk-based targeting of the worst polluters could significantly improve environmental quality and health in overburdened communities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Health*
  • Humans
  • Industry*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Social Justice*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Wisconsin