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Toxic releases and risk disparity: a spatiotemporal model of industrial ecology and social empowerment.


Information-based regulations (IBRs) are founded on the theoretical premise that public participation in accomplishing policy goals is empowered by open access to information. Since its inception in 1988, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) has provided the framework and regulatory impetus for the compilation and distribution of data on toxic releases associated with industrial development, following the tenets of IBR. As TRI emissions are reputed to disproportionately affect low-income communities, we investigated how demographic characteristics are related to change in TRI emissions and toxicity risks between 1989 and 2002, and we sought to identify factors that predict these changes. We used local indicators of spatial association (LISA) maps and spatial regression techniques to study risk disparity in the Los Angeles urban area. We also surveyed 203 individuals in eight communities in the same region to measure the levels of awareness of TRI, attitudes towards air pollution, and general environmental risk. We discovered, through spatial lag models, that changes in gross and toxic emissions are related to community ethnic composition, poverty level, home ownership, and base 1989 emissions (R-square=0.034-0.083). We generated a structural equation model to explain the determinants of social empowerment to act on the basis of environmental information. Hierarchical confirmatory factor analysis (HCFA) supports the theoretical model that individual empowerment is predicted by risk perception, worry, and awareness (Chi-square=63.315, p=0.022, df=42). This study provides strong evidence that spatiotemporal changes in regional-scale environmental risks are influenced by individual-scale empowerment mediated by IBRs.

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