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Social, political, and economic dynamics result in the collocation of industrial operations and low-income residential areas (see Fig. 1) at disproportionately higher rates than middle-class and affluent communities. The evidence is abundant. Altgeld Gardens, a low-income, the predominantly black community of Chicago, is ringed by toxic waste incinerators, steel mills, landfills, sewage treatment plants, and chemical and manufacturing plants. The toxins released from these facilities are deleterious to residents’ health.

Low-income residential areas more pollution than middle-class

The collocation of industry and habitation dates to racist zoning policies of the 1920s. Houston placed all of its landfills constructed between the 1920s and the 1980s and six of its eight incinerators in African American neighbourhoods. Zip code 90058, one of the most polluted in the USA, is centred in Los Angeles’ largest Latino and African American neighbourhoods. The one-square-mile community is home to gigantic toxic waste incinerators and waste dumps. Noxious factories expose employees and residents to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, lead, and pesticides. Social scientists attribute the differential distribution of industrial sites to corruption, corporations’ deliberate targeting of low-income communities, municipalities’ decisions to zone areas near low-income communities for industrial development, and poor communities’ inability to match the legal and political power of large corporations.

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