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Environ Sci Technol. 2009 Oct 15;43(20):7626-34. doi: 10.1021/es901041p.

An index for assessing demographic inequalities in cumulative environmental hazards with application to Los Angeles, California.

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  • 1Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-7360, USA.


Researchers in environmental justice contend that low-income communities and communities of color face greater impacts from environmental hazards. This is also of concern for policy makers. In this context, our paper has two principal objectives. First, we propose a method for creating an index capable of summarizing racial-ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities from the impact of cumulative environmental hazards. Second, we apply the index to Los Angeles County to illustrate the potential applications and complexities of its implementation. Individual environmental inequality indices are calculated based on unequal shares of environmental hazards for racial-ethnic groups and socioeconomic positions. The illustrated hazards include ambient concentrations of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and estimates of cancer risk associated with modeled estimates for diesel particulate matter. The cumulative environmental hazard inequality index (CEHII) then combines individual environmental hazards, using either a multiplicative or an additive model. Significant but modest inequalities exist for both individual and cumulative environmental hazards in Los Angeles. The highest level of inequality among racial-ethnic and socioeconomic groups occurs when a multiplicative model is used to estimate cumulative hazard. The CEHII provides a generalized framework that incorporates environmental hazards and socioeconomic characteristics to assess inequalities in cumulative environmental risks.

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