Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, Second Edition, Environmental Justice: An Overview

Elsevier, Encyclopedia of Environmental Helath, Second Edition, 2019, Pages 569-577
Gordon Mitchell

Environmental Justice (EJ) is concerned with the fair distribution amongst social groups of environmental quality. The EJ movement grew from concerns first expressed in 1970s United States, that hazards, such as toxic waste disposal facilities, were predominantly located in low income and nonwhite communities. However, despite the abundance of EJ studies, critical reviews subsequently revealed that the evidence for environmental inequality was smaller than first thought, due to a lack of scientific rigor in analysis. More recent studies have provided robust evidence for environmental inequality, including that of population exposure to environmental quality in breach of legal standards intended to protect public health. Guidance on key appraisal issues is presented, addressing selection of study populations, environmental parameters, statistical methods, and a range of spatial analysis issues. Unequal distributions are not necessarily unjust, hence issues relevant to their interpretation are addressed, including: demonstration of cause and effect; alternative theories for observed distributions; and application of justice theory. Practical responses to environmental injustice are reviewed, and the importance of a participatory approach, as recognized by national and international legislation, highlighted. The widening conception of EJ is noted, particularly the importance of justice between nations as a prerequisite to achieving sustainability.