Rice University

Events at Rice

Thesis Defense

Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

Speaker: Kevin Smiley
Doctoral Candidate

Industrial Pollution and Civic Capacity in Metropolitan America

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
11:30 AM  to 2:30 PM

250  Sewall Hall

Environmental justice research analyzes inequalities by race and class in exposure to unhealthful toxins in the air, land, and water. These inequalities are typically considered at relatively small scales, such as neighborhoods, because these scales most effectively conceptualize the area of exposure. This important focus on neighborhoods, though, is paralleled by a growing research agenda on disparities and patterns at larger scales, like metropolitan areas, that are theorized to affect exposure to toxins at lower scales. This dissertation investigates disparities in exposure to industrial pollution across metropolitan areas. The emergent research on the topic has not particularly identified mechanisms or processes that contribute to disparities across urban areas at the same time that wide variations have been described. To fill this research gap, I turn to a framework that centers on civic capacity to analyze how and why these disparities have emerged. The analysis is conducted using the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators Geographic Microdata (RSEI-GM), which uses fine-grained air pollution data that takes into account the toxicity of chemicals from more than 20,000 facilities in the United States, and how these data correspond to risks to human health. The findings suggest the utility of a civic capacity framework in three primary findings. First, I explicate how different measures of social capital organizations, which are based on the bridging or bonding nature of social ties, are correlated with levels of exposure to unhealthful toxins from industrial polluters. Second, I dive further into a discussion of social capital organizations by examining religious congregations, and finding that greater numbers of congregations are associated with accentuated or attenuated racial inequalities in exposure depending on the type of religious congregation under examination. Third, I find that the changing manufacturing base of a metropolitan area is associated with industrial pollution such that urban areas that have lost manufacturing jobs from 1970 to 2010 are particularly disadvantaged in exposure to unhealthful toxins. Taken together, these findings argue that civic capacity underwrites capacities for social justice, including environmental justice, in metropolitan areas in the United States.

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