Linking environmental injustices in Detroit, MI to institutional racial segregation through historical federal redlining

J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2022 Dec 21. doi: 10.1038/s41370-022-00512-y. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: To identify the most pervasive environmental exposures driving environmental disparities today associated with historical redlining in Detroit.

Methods: We overlaid Detroit's 1939 Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) shapefile from the Mapping Inequality project onto the EPA EJScreen and the DOT National Transportation Noise maps to analyze differences in current demographic and environmental indicators between historically redlined (D-grade) and non-redlined neighborhoods using simple linear regression and a boosted classification tree algorithm.

Results: Historically redlined neighborhoods in Detroit experienced significantly higher environmental hazards than non-redlined neighborhoods in the form of 12.1% (95% CI: 7.2-17.1%) higher levels of diesel particulate matter (PM), 32.2% (95% CI: 3.3-69.3%) larger traffic volumes, and 65.7% (95% CI: 8.6-152.8%) higher exposure to hazardous road noise (LEQ(24h) >70 dBA). Historically redlined neighborhoods were situated near 1.7-times (95% CI: 1.4-2.1) more hazardous waste sites and twice as many (95% CI: 1.5-2.7) risk management plan (RMP) sites than non-redlined neighborhoods. The lifetime cancer risk from inhalation of air toxics was 4.4% (95% CI: 2.9-6.6%) higher in historically redlined communities, and the risk of adverse respiratory health outcomes from air toxics was 3.9% (95% CI: 2.1-5.6%) higher. All factors considered together, among the environmental hazards considered, the most pervasive hazards in historically redlined communities are proximity to RMP sites, hazardous road noise, diesel PM, and cancer risk from air pollution.

Conclusions: Historically redlined neighborhoods may have a disproportionately higher risk of developing cancer and adverse respiratory health outcomes from air toxics. Policies targeting air and noise pollution from transportation sources, particularly from sources of diesel exhaust, in historically redlined neighborhoods may ameliorate some of the impacts of structural environmental racism from historical redlining in Detroit.

Keywords: Air pollution; EJSCREEN; Environmental justice; Noise; Redlining; Structural racism.