Trends in exposure to industrial air toxins for different racial and socioeconomic groups: A spatial and temporal examination of environmental inequality in the U.S. from 1995 to 2004

Soc Sci Res. 2015 Sep;53:375-90. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2015.06.019. Epub 2015 Jun 27.


In recent decades there have been dramatic declines in industrial air toxins. However, there has yet to be a national study investigating if the drop has mitigated the unequal exposure to industrial toxins by race and social class. This paper addresses this by developing a unique dataset of air pollution exposure estimates, by aggregating the annual fall-out location of 415 air toxins, from 17,604 facilities, for the years 1995 to 2004 up to census block groups (N=216,159/year). These annual estimates of exposure were matched with census data to calculate trends in exposure for different racial and socioeconomic groups. Results show that exposure to air toxins has decreased for everyone, but African-Americans are consistently more exposed than Whites and Hispanics and socioeconomic status is not as protective for African-Americans. These results by race were further explored using spatially specified multilevel models which examine trends over time and across institutional boundaries.

Keywords: Air pollution; Environmental inequality; Environmental justice; Longitudinal; Multilevel models; National; Regional; United States.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans*
  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollution / analysis*
  • Continental Population Groups
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Ethnic Groups
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Hispanic Americans*
  • Humans
  • Social Class*
  • Social Justice*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States


  • Air Pollutants