Environmental justice and Superfund NPL designation in the application of the Hazard Ranking System: Case study in EPA region III using GIS
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also called Superfund), was enacted in 1980 to respond to growing abandoned hazardous-waste-site problems. Under the Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designed the National Priorities List (NPL) to set priorities for cleaning up Superfund sites in accordance with the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) score for each site.
The Office of Technology Assessment, the National Research Council, and other researchers have reported that the HRS score has been manipulated in data collection and sampling by interested parties to meet their individual objectives. In contrast to poor and minority communities, affluent communities have more resources to invest in comprehensive site investigation, yielding a potential for socioeconomic inequity in the site-screening process. This potential bias can lead to an environmental justice problem.
This dissertation investigates the following hypotheses: (1) the HRS score is not a significant predictor for NPL designation; and, (2) race/ethnicity and socioeconomic factors of affected communities are significant predictors for NPL designation.
To test the first hypothesis, this dissertation employed both descriptive and statistical techniques to analyze real HRS scores for both NPL and non-NPL sites in EPA region III. To test the second hypothesis, this dissertation performed logistic regression analysis using site-specific demographic data within a certain radius from each site, as calculated by the aggregation method using a Geographic Information System (GIS) Arcview.
As previous studies have argued and as this dissertation hypothesizes, the results of several analyses for testing both hypotheses show that the HRS score is not a significant predictor for NPL designation, and show that the percentage of black people, the percentage of people living under the poverty line, and population density are significant predictors for NPL designation.
Thus, the HRS score is not the major criterion for NPL designation. Rather, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic factors actually control the trajectory of a Superfund site's cleanup. The fact that variables of Black (minority status) and low-income are significant predictors for NPL designation means that environmental injustice effects exist in the HRS process for NPL designation. In conclusion, Race/ethnicity and income factors have been major forces for NPL designation in EPA Region III.
Area planning & development;
0999: Area planning & development
0768: Environmental science
0573: Public health