Pollution and poverty: where do they intersect?

http://awesome.good.is/transparency/web/1208/the-toxic-twenty/flash.html

Found at good.is. Click through for more info/ a clearer image

I came across this infographic on Good the other day and thought it was fascinating. What I thought could make it even more interesting though, was to review states by wealth and see how they compared. Lower socioeconomic and minority racial groups do tend to have poorer health outcomes – they tend to live in areas that are classified as food deserts, have a limited income to spend on fresh whole foods, work in more dangerous jobs and are statistically more likely to live in areas with high levels of air pollution as well as other types of toxic contamination (land, groundwater etc) (1, 2, 3). I was curious as to whether this disparity was visible on a state level, or whether it would only show up on a more local county/city level.

What I found was this:

10 Wealthiest US States 2012 (per capita personal income)

  10 Poorest US States 2012 (per capita personal income)

1. Connecticut

  1. Mississippi

2. Massachusetts

  2. Idaho

3. New Jersey

  3. South Carolina

4. New York

  4. West Virginia

5. Maryland

  5. Utah

6. North Dakota

  6. Arkansas

7. Wyoming

  7. Kentucky

8. Virginia

  8. New Mexico

9. New Hampshire

  9. Alabama

10. Alaska

  10. Arizona

(Data all drawn from http://bber.unm.edu/econ/us-pci.htm)

So, what does that mean for my theory? It means that there is less state-based correlation that I might have actually expected. Kentucky, the state with the poorest air quality, is only the 7th poorest state in the country. West Virginia has the fifth worst air quality and is the fourth poorest state. Aside from those two though, none of the other top ten states with the worst air are in the lowest ten for income per capita. State income and state air quality seem, at least on this fairly superficial level, to be completely unconnected.

I certainly don’t think I’m breaking new knowledge barriers by looking at this. I looked into it purely out of a sense of curiosity. What it’s now made me think about though, is how the localised nature of poverty and pollution is even more disenfranchising for those affected than it would be if it were occurring on a state-based level. A state can speak with a louder voice than a suburb, and it has a much greater capacity to determine its future than some of the most disadvantaged people in our society.

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