The right to knowledge and the superfund program: A fundamental cause approach to disparities in resident awareness of hazardous waste sites

Danielle Christine Rhubart, Anya M. Galli Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program was designed to remediate environmentally hazardous waste sites and, in doing so, inform and engage the public. Awareness of such hazards is essential for residents to be able to take individual and collective measures to protect their health. Although previous research has examined perceptions of the level of knowledge about environmental hazards, what has received less attention in the literature—and is a critical missing piece—is whether awareness of environmental hazards in one’s community is explained by socioeconomic status (SES). Drawing on fundamental cause theory and a survey of households in two neighborhoods that are in or directly adjacent to two Superfund sites in Southwest Ohio, this research shows the important and nuanced role of SES in explaining awareness of these risks. Those who rent their home are significantly less likely than those who own their home to know about the Superfund sites even after controlling for other measures of SES and length of residency in the neighborhood. The findings from this research highlight important disparities in awareness of environmental hazards under the Superfund process—a process that was specifically designed to address environmental injustices and subsequently disparities in health risks. Our research also shows that SES is a broad measure that must be disaggregated to acknowledge the tangible mechanisms through which marginalization occurs. We conclude with a discussion of the implications for environmental justice research and for activists and policy makers seeking pathways to procedural justice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-188
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Justice
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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