having disproportionate environmental exposures to air toxins, hazardous wastes, and other environmental dangers (Wright 2011:8).  

            In this same vein, anthropologist Checker’s engaged ethnographic study (2005) entitled “Polluted Promises” sought out the historical, political and racial struggles of a poor African-American community in the Hyde Park swamplands surrounding Augusta, Georgia.  Checker explores why the population settled and remains in that situation (Checker 2005).  She centers her work on the “disproportionate sitting of hazardous waste facilities in communities of color” (Checker 2005:14).  The residents of the Hyde Park area suffer from being poor and black and believe that their situation has “95 percent to do with race” (Checker 2005:94).  Checker builds a case to support her claim of institutional racism as the determining factor of the environmental injustice that Hyde Park residents face.

            These “plumes of smoke” and “rivers of chemical” had a severe impact on the residents of Hyde Park (Checker 2005:6). The community, in particular the children, suffered from “rashes, lupus, respiratory and circulatory problems and rare forms of cancer” (Checker 2005:6).  While each report mentioned the toxic chemicals, the number and extent of health implication were always in influx (Checker 2005:7).  How risk was determined and communicated was vastly different among the actors in this situation. The positions of the officials were rooted in the seemingly objective risk data while the residents lived immersed in an experimental risk (Checker 2005, Lejano and Stokols 2010).


Empirical Evidence


            There are three groundbreaking published original empirical studies that have focused on the relationship between environmental hazards and community demographics.  They are:

I.      The objective of the U.S. Government Accounting Office (1983) study was to determine “the correlation between the location of hazardous waste landfills and the racial and economic status of surrounding communities” (Anderton et al. 1994:230).  It concluded that the majority of the population surrounding three of the four studied facilities was African-American (Anderton et al. 1994:230).

II.    The United Church of Christ’s Commission conducted the most widely discussed empirical study for Racial Justice (UCC) in 1986.  The UCC study sought to “document the racial and socioeconomic characteristics of Americans living in areas surrounding commercial hazardous waste facilities” (Anderton et al. 1994:231). The study found that, in 1986, the “percentage minority population was twice as great in areas with one commercial hazardous waste facility as in areas that did not contain a commercial hazardous waste facility” (Anderton et al. 1994:231). 

III.    In 1992, Mohai and Bryant attempted to access racial biases in regards to the distribution of hazardous waste facilities surrounding the city of Detroit.  They theorized “race is more importantly related to the distribution of these hazards that income” (Anderton et al. 1994:231).

Anthropology of Environmental Health


Much of the anthropological literature regarding risk perception and assessment attempts to highlight the lack of contextualization of the official response and this is often accomplished through the study of environmental disasters and health.  Cernea’s Impoverishment Risks and Reconstruction Model (IRR) seeks to explain, diagnose and plan for the risks intrinsic within environmental disasters that further exacerbate socio-economic inequalities (Cernea 2000).  Tobin and Whiteford call for risk interaction during and after environmental disasters that “facilitate both vertical and horizontal communication” (Tobin and Whiteford 2007:376).