Executive Summary

The Environmental Justice Movement was founded on the principles of environmental equity, or the belief that every human being has the right to a safe environment. In the United States this principle is seldom realized. Air pollution, water pollution, and toxic waste sites are the primary obstacles to environmental justice. These hazards are found across the United States, but data suggests that they are concentrated in low income and high minority communities. It is this trend that leads to environmental injustice.

Worcester, Massachusetts

Consisting of almost 5,000 residents per square mile, Worcester is a densely populated city.  With this many members of the community living so close together, environmental hazards pose a serious risk.  Air, water, and land pollution in urban environments can lead to dramatic health problems such as asthma, allergies and lung disease, especially in children.  However, these hazards are not distributed evenly throughout the city and appear to be concentrated in the city’s lowest income and highest minority neighborhoods.

Project Goal & Project Objectives

The goal of this project was to identify and document the environmental hazards present in the five designated communities in Worcester (Main South, Quinsigamond Village, Bell Hill, Oak Hill, and Piedmont) as well as to explore the challenges that these communities face in achieving environmental justice.  The results of this project will be used by the Regional Environmental Council (REC) in their application for a Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) Grant focused on, among other things, addressing the disproportionate distribution of environmental hazards.  Our team worked with the REC from October to December 2012, and subsequent teams from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will continue to work with the REC until the submission of their grant application in October 2013.

As we were the first team to work with the REC, our main job was to identify environmental problems, whereas future teams will be more solution-oriented.  The team identified several objectives that we planned to reach by the end of the project:

  1. Document environmental hazards throughout the city of Worcester
  2. Document demographic information, particularly race, income, and education level in the twelve Worcester communities studied
  3. Compare number of hazards in each neighborhood to demographic makeup
  4. Make recommendations to the REC/future project teams as to where more research is needed

Methodology

The team obtained a map of Worcester from City Hall. This map was used to display over 1000 environmental hazards we identified throughout the city. We color coded the hazard indicators placed on the map in order to distinguish between the different categories of hazards. The environmental hazards included DEP tier 1 sites, DEP tier 2 sites, active solid waste landfills, active soil/ash/coal landfills, recycling and transfer stations, Toxic Use Reduction Act (TURA) chemical waste sites, active compost sites (both commercial and municipal), incinerators, and small businesses or minor hazards. This visual representation will supplement the REC’s application for the CARE Grant, and may prove to be a useful tool for the REC’s future endeavors.

In our project the term communities is defined by the individuals and environments which compose the sections of Worcester, Massachusetts known as Quinsigamond Village, Main South, Piedmont, Oak Hill, Bell Hill, Vernon Hill, West Tatnuck, Hadwen Park, Grafton Hill, Newton Square, Forest Grove, and Burncoat, respectively. These community boundaries are relatively well established and generally align with census tracts.  It was our goal to determine if environmental injustice exists in the five assigned communities by comparing them to other neighborhoods within the same city.  This comparison will make our sponsor’s application to the Environmental Protection Agency’s CARE grant even stronger.

Demographics is defined as the statistical characteristics of these populations. The demographic variables we analyzed included percentage of minorities, income, and education level. Our sponsor chose these variables for us to analyze because the communities we investigated are known to be low income, high minority, and low education level communities. These common traits will make it easier to show a correlation between demographics and environmental hazards. The demographic variable of income is defined as the annual household income of the residents of these communities.  Specifically, we considered the percentage of residents whose annual household income is less than $30,000 per year.  The percentage of minorities is defined as the percentage of non-White residents of these communities.  We also accounted for individuals of Hispanic or Latino descent because although not defined by the United States Census as a separate race, this ethnic group possesses unique characteristics that align better with our definition of non-White.  The percentage of non-White residents is defined as the inverse of the percentage of White, non-Hispanic residents of each community.  Education level is defined as the percentage of residents over the age of twenty-five who have completed high school (or equivalency).

Findings and Recommendations

After comparing the environmental hazard distribution of Worcester to the demographic makeup of the target communities, we came to the conclusion that environmental hazards are not distributed equally throughout the city.  We also confirmed that race, income and education level are useful indicators for determining presence of environmental hazards.

Based on our findings the team developed several recommendations for the REC and future project teams:

Recommendation 1: Add to Compilation of Hazards

Recommendation 2: Find Detailed Reports for Waste and Land Hazards

Recommendation 3: Quantitative Analysis Using Density Figures

Recommendation 4: Further Analysis into Quinsigamond Village

Recommendation 5: Investigate the Indian Lake East, Downtown, and Green Island Neighborhoods

Recommendation 6: Offer Solutions to Environmental Problems