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It is not race or class that makes communities more susceptible to industrial pollution. The reason that environmental justice research has produced “very mixed results,” says Don Grant, a sociologist at the University of Arizona, is that it’s been asking the wrong questions.
People, from sociologists to activists to policymakers, “like to reduce problems like pollution to a single factor, such as race or income. But our findings suggest it’s more complex than that,” and should include traits of the polluting firm, says Grant. “It doesn’t make sense to focus on one particular variable; it makes more sense to talk about these things coalescing in certain ways.”
Grant and his colleagues used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators on the toxic emissions of