Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Donald W. Hastings


This doctoral dissertation examines the distribution of environmentally risky technologies in the Southeastern United States. The empirical target is commercial treatment, storage, and disposal (TSD) installations of hazardous waste. Two questions motivate the investigation: where are hazardous waste installations located, and why? These installations handle substances that increase rates of mortality and serious irreversible illness, and pose a significant hazard to human health and the environment. Scholars maintain the hazardous waste stream in the United States has a grisly logic - it is distributed on the population unevenly, with poor communities of color burdened disproportionately. The dissertation tests four hypotheses distilled from four theories of human organization of space for risky technologies. The first hypothesis, economic rationality, examines the distribution of TSD installations from the standpoint of commercial operators. TSD installation operators insist they select commercially suitable locations not areas with historically disadvantaged populations. The second hypothesis, scientific rationality, examines the distribution problem from the standpoint of EPA geologists, hydrologists and engineers, that insist siting decisions are based on clearly articulated scientific criteria. The third hypothesis, community social capital, analyzes the geographic unevenness of environmental health risks as a function of the variable capacity of communities to resist the placement of a facility in their neighborhood by levels of trust, cohesion, and reciprocity that obtain. The fourth hypothesis, race and class inequality, examines the claim that inequitable siting of hazardous waste installations is an outcropping of direct and indirect institutional discrimination. The dataset is a match of records on fully operational treatment, storage and disposal facilities and large quantity generators of hazardous waste from the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Social and Demographic Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, population and housing data at the census tract level from the US Census Bureau, non-profit organization data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics and the People of Color Environmental Groups Directory, and seismic hazard and hydrologic data from the US Geological Survey. Bivariate and multivariate statistical results suggest that siting outcomes are predictable by the distribution of social capital assets, the racial composition of a community, the seismological unsuitability a land use, and TSD installation proximity to adequately skilled labor and hazardous materials for processing. The concentration of large quantity generator activity and the percentage of African-Americans in a neighborhood prevail as the most consistent and powerful predictors of TSD installation siting at regional and sub-regional levels, and across different spatial measures of environmental health risk. Uneven distribution of environmental burdens by race violates the promise of President Clinton's Executive Order 12898, mandating fair treatment of all people in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. The dissertation ends with a risk allocation scheme to solve the systemic Prisoners' Dilemma of concentrated environmental burden and diffuse environmental benefit.

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