The relationship often assumed by environmental justice researchers is that proximity to a hazardous waste site is a measure of exposure to harmful chemicals. Few researchers, however, explicitly address the methodological challenge of measuring the causal relationship between toxic chemical exposure and health problems. To better understand the methodological task of moving beyond the proximity-exposure assumption, the three most commonly used quantitative methodological approaches in environmental justice research are briefly outlined. Using geographic information system techniques, we operationalize toxic exposure as an interval-level variable and integrate this data with geocoded health and social survey information. We develop a methodological design that enables researchers to assess what factors cause mental and physical health problems for individuals living in contaminated areas. The results of the hierarchical multiple regression analyses indicate that sociodemographic, perceived exposure, objective exposure, and food consumption variables are significant predictors of physical health and psychological well-being. We also found a significant relationship between physical health and psychological well-being. The data used in this paper were collected in a low-income, African-American community in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This community is contiguous to a Superfund site (EPA) called the Wingate Road Municipal Incinerator and Landfill.
Environmental justice and toxic exposure: toward a spatial model of physical health and psychological well-being