Date of Award
Master of Public Health (MPH)
School of Public Health
Background: Unconventional oil and gas drilling practices have led to the production of technologically-enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials (TENORM) and chemical waste products, with insufficient toxicological data to understand the health impacts of exposures to these waste materials (U.S. Energy Information Administration, n.d.; US EPA, 2015b; ALNabhani et al., 2016; Elliott et al., 2017). Environmental injustices occur when disadvantaged populations experience a disproportionate burden of exposure to environmental disamenities, such as waste facilities (US EPA, 2015a). This study aims to assess whether disparate exposure to drilling waste facilities is occurring in Pennsylvania based on several socioeconomic factors, as well as estimate the size and population characteristics of the proximal communities.
Methods: Waste facility locations were accessed through Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection Office of Oil and Gas Management, and the population data was sourced from the 2021 census at the block group level. Block groups were dichotomized as either proximal (centroid <5km from a waste facility) or not proximal (centroid >5km from a waste facility), and the population density was used as the weight for a weighted Poisson regression to determine the association of each community factor and proximity to a waste facility.
Results: 1,138 block groups were within a 5km radius of a waste facility, and an estimated excess of 1.7 million people live within this radius. Neither the number of people living below the poverty level or experiencing unemployment were significantly associated with the proximity to a waste facility, while the number of people identifying as Hispanic or Latino and those who did not finish high school are significantly associated with an increased likelihood of proximity, and the number of individuals identifying as Black or African American, Asian, Native American/Alaska native, or Other racial identities were significantly associated with slightly reduced likelihood of proximity to a waste facility.
Discussion: This study found that the block groups in close proximity to waste facilities had marginally lower numbers of people identifying with at least one of the negative social determinants of health categories included in the analysis than the block groups outside the 5km radius. Current legal exemptions shield oil and gas drilling companies from compulsory disclosure of chemical contents and potential exposures, and closing such loopholes could prevent avoidable harm to proximal communities. Additionally, by managing wastes where fossil fuel use is highest also associates the benefits of the fuel with the harms and reduces the inequity of some benefiting from fossil fuels while others are harmed.
Naperala, Avery, "Assessment Of Environmental Injustice: Spatial Analysis Of Pennsylvania Drilling Waste Facilities And Community Demographics" (2023). Public Health Theses. 2313.