University of Cincinnati Research Looks At

Living Dangerously in Local Neighborhoods

October 9, 1998
Contact: Mary Bridget Reilly
513-556-1824 (O)

Cincinnati -- Some public housing residents may be in peril from polluting industries.

And whether in private or public housing, those Cincinnatians most likely to live near toxic industries tend to be minorities with lower-than-average levels of education and income as well as significantly higher mortality rates.

Christopher Auffrey, assistant professor of planning at the University of Cincinnati, and Xinhao Wang, UC assistant professor of planning, are researching how homes come to be placed near such industries. Their work will be published this October in the quarterly journal, Environments, and will be presented at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning national meeting in California this November.

Industrial sites in neighborhoods along I-75/Mill Creek and in Norwood, Madisonville and Elmwood Place appear on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory (which lists industrial firms that release selected toxins beyond allowable thresholds) and the Ohio EPA's Master Sites List (which catalogs past spills and other hazardous materials threats).

Auffrey and Wang compared the TRI and MSL information (1994 figures) with mortality, ethnic, income and education data available for Cincinnati neighborhoods between 1986-1994 and found that those living closest to hazardous materials sites like chemical companies, sanitary landfills, asphalt plants, manufacturers and food processors had age-adjusted mortality rates one-and-a-half to three times higher than those living more than three miles away. Census block groups near the TRI- and MSL-listed industries had average mortality rates of 9.6 and 9.9 per thousand residents, respectively, while those farther away had average rates of 6.5 (for TRI sites) and 3.4 (for MSL sites) per thousand residents.

The mortality rates were higher in older, less affluent areas in the center and west portions of the city while newer areas to the east generally have lower mortality rates. Auffrey explained that homes found near contaminating industries are likely to be older. Prior generations, pre-World War II, simply did not recognize the hazards involved, or the then-present emissions were less toxic than today s chemicals, many of which were developed during or after World War II.

"An area's mortality rate is certainly one of the better measures of overall health. We're not saying that the sulfuric acid, methanol, hydrochloric acid, and ammonia that our industry is releasing into the air, water, land and sewer systems are an imminent threat to health. It's more an indication that if you live near such sites (like the BFI Sanitary Landfill, the B&O dump, the Chevron USA plant, the Metropolitan Sewer District, Monsanto or Hillshire Farms), it seems to be one factor in higher death rates that could also be linked to the fact that nearby residents are more likely to be African American, poor and poorly educated," explained Auffrey.

In the next phase of this research, Auffrey and Wang will examine how housing came to be located near industrial sites, sites that were in place when the housing was introduced. For example, there seem to have been an explicit choice to locate Winton Hills' public housing near the Mill Creek industrial complex. Auffrey and Wang want to examine how the decision was made.

"Was it simply the invisible hand of the free market? Were the hazardous materials nearby ignored or considered unimportant? We also want to examine the U.S. EPA granting of permits for release of chemicals. Does it take into account nearby residences as it should?" said Auffrey who added that he and Wang will also study whether minority representation was part of the public housing siting process of the past 30 years that seems to systematically lock people into environmentally threatened neighborhoods where the existing industrial sites, in place for a century or more, substantially expanded over the past three decades.

Wang and Auffrey's research has been funded by a University Research Grant.

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