Hazardous and Nonhazardous Waste:

Demographics of People Living Near Waste Facilities

RCED-95-84: Published: Jun 13, 1995. Publicly Released: Aug 1, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided: (1) demographic information on people living near nonhazardous municipal solid waste landfills; (2) summaries of 10 studies on the demographics of people living near hazardous waste facilities; (3) information on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to address environmental justice issues; and (4) information on the extent of the health effects of hazardous and nonhazardous facilities on minorities and low-income people.

GAO found that: (1) minorities and low-income people were not overrepresented in the populations residing near nonhazardous municipal landfills; (2) the percentage of minority and low-income residents near landfills was usually lower than in the rest of the county; (3) the 10 studies reviewed did not agree on whether minorities and low-income people were disproportionately represented in the populations living near hazardous waste facilities; (4) it was difficult to generalize about the studies' conclusions, since the authors examined different types of facilities and used different methodologies and definitions of racial minorities; (5) none of the studies addressed changes in the makeup of the surrounding population after a facility's construction; (6) EPA requirements for hazardous and nonhazardous waste facilities and public participation in selection decisions have not focused on environmental justice, but EPA has recently proposed regulations and requested public comment on how to address the issue; (7) local government zoning laws were more likely to influence the proximity of pollution sources to low-income people; and (8) there is little available data on the health effects of hazardous and nonhazardous waste sites on minorities or low-income people.

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