We ask the following questions:
(I) Are producer disproportionalities present and consistent across the study area?
(II) Are particular communities (low income and/or those of color) disproportionately impacted by producers who generate a disproportionate amount of pollution?
Our findings suggest affirmative answers to both these questions. Using public data and open-source software, we assess industrially based exposure estimates and proximate socio-demographic characteristics on a polluter-by-polluter basis across the continental United States. We find a highly skewed distribution of polluter-based harm generation with fewer than 10% of the nearly 16 000 study area facilities generating greater than 90% of estimated exposure (question (I)). When describing the socio-demographic exposure profiles, we show that although polluters are likely to disproportionately impact poor and nonwhite communities, these disproportionalities become even more pronounced when considering the smaller group of facilities who generate the majority of exposure risk (question (II)). We refer to this small group of disproportionate generators as toxic outliers.
An implication from our study is that these two sides of disproportionality are connected in a ‘double disproportionality’ framework. This type of connection has both applied and scholarly significance. First, double disproportionality would predict that industrial impacts overall, and in EJ communities specifically, would decrease if toxic outliers could be compelled to reduce their emissions. Second, double disproportionality adds to our understanding of how society’s polluter-industrial complex works by explicitly incorporating measurable power dynamics. Future studies should consider disaggregating polluters rather than looking at polluters in the aggregate.
In other words, to fight against environmental injustice might actually be more about targeting individual companies who are especially horrible than fighting the aggregate of all polluters. Very interesting policy implications here.