Analyzing the Military’s Role in Producing Air Toxics Disparities in the United States: A Critical Environmental Justice Approach


The negative environmental, health, and social effects arising from U.S. military action in communities both domestically and abroad suggest that the military represents an understudied institutional source of environmental injustice. Moreover, scholars and activists have long argued that the state is an active or a tacit contributor to environmental inequality, thus providing an opportunity to link U.S. military activity with approaches to the state developed under critical environmental justice. We build on these literatures to ask: Does the presence of domestic military facilities significantly increase carcinogenic risks from air toxics? And do communities of color face additional military-associated carcinogenic risks? Multilevel analyses reveal that locales in closer proximity to a military facility and those exposed to greater military technological intensity, independent of each other, experience significantly higher carcinogenic risk from air toxics. We find that proximity to military facilities tends to intensify racial and ethnic environmental inequalities in exposure to airborne toxics, but in different ways for Latinx and Black populations. These results highlight the role of the state in perpetuating racial and environmental expendability as reflected in critical environmental justice and represent an important expansion of nationwide environmental justice studies on contributors to environmental inequality.

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Last updated on 03/14/2022