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Toxic Tides and Environmental Injustice: Social Vulnerability to Sea Level Rise and Flooding of Hazardous Sites in Coastal California


Sea level rise (SLR) and heavy precipitation events are increasing the frequency and extent of coastal flooding, which can trigger releases of toxic chemicals from hazardous sites, many of which are in low-income communities of color. We used regression models to estimate the association between facility flood risk and social vulnerability indicators in low-lying block groups in California. We applied dasymetric mapping techniques to refine facility boundaries and population estimates and probabilistic SLR projections to estimate facilities' future flood risk. We estimate that 423 facilities are at risk of flooding in 2100 under a high emissions scenario (RCP 8.5). One unit standard deviation increases in nonvoters, poverty rate, renters, residents of color, and linguistically isolated households were associated with a 1.5-2.2 times higher odds of the presence of an at-risk site within 1 km (ORs [95% CIs]: 2.2 [1.8, 2.8], 1.9 [1.5, 2.3], 1.7 [1.4, 1.9], 1.5 [1.2, 1.9], and 1.5 [1.2, 1.9], respectively). Among block groups near at least one at-risk site, the number of sites increased with poverty, proportion of renters and residents of color, and lower voter turnout. These results underscore the need for further research and disaster planning that addresses the differential hazards and health risks of SLR.

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