Western Washington UniversityCommunications and Marketing
DATE: September 19, 2011 10:58:23 AM PDT
Western Professor's Research Shows Neighborhood Disparities in Seattle's Pollution Distribution and Exposure Risks

Contact: Troy Abel, Western Washington University associate professor of Environmental Studies, at (360) 650-6133 or troy.abel@wwu.edu. 

BELLINGHAM – Western Washington University Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Troy Abel and Geography graduate student Jonah White recently published a new study about trends in Seattle’s pollution distributions, relative exposure risks and their association with gentrification.

Abel and White found evidence that Seattle’s industrial air toxic-exposure risk was unevenly dispersed; gentrification processes were stratifying Seattle neighborhoods; and the inequities of both often converged in the same place. 

“The process of gentrification causes a surge in land values that forces some industries off property that used to be relatively inexpensive; these industries relocate to other neighborhoods with lower property values, taking their exposure risk with them,” Abel said.

This process lowers the risk for the gentrified area but boosts it for the industry’s new neighborhood. One example cited by Abel and White in their study were the Lake Union and South Park neighborhoods; when an industrial facility left the increasingly gentrified area of Lake Union in 2005 and moved to South Park/Duwamish, it shifted a known quantity of toxic air pollution from one area to the other.

“What this process also does is produce more and more stratification in Seattle’s poorest neighborhoods; they become more heavily concentrated along minority racial lines and socioeconomic status,” Abel said.

Their research, “Skewed Riskscapes and Gentrified Inequities: Environmental Exposure Disparities in Seattle, Washington,” appears online in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH). 

“Seattle has been heralded for its leadership in sustainability, but our analysis questioned this reputation. Parts of the city fared poorly in all 3 dimensions of sustainability -- environment, equity, and economy,” said Abel. 

Their research contributes to our understanding of Seattle’s demographic evolution as illuminated by analysis of the latest Census data.  While exceptional in some aspects, the Emerald City shares a common pattern with many urban areas; pollution exposures and the burdens of gentrified economic development were skewed toward the most socially vulnerable residents. 

Abel continues his research with students at Western’s Huxley College of the Environment to create maps of industrial pollution sources and their performance over time and a pilot website can be viewed at this url: http://www.wwu.edu/huxley/spatial/tri/.  White is working on finishing his Master’s thesis this fall.

“Skewed Riskscapes and Gentrified Inequities” is available online for journal subscribers at http://ajph.aphapublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/AJPH.2011.300174v1; media can obtain copies from Patricia Warin at patricia.warin@apha.org (202-777-2511). 

For more information, contact Troy Abel at (360) 650-6133 or Troy.Abel@wwu.edu.

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