Silicon Valley's Electronics Manufacturing Toxins Are Concentrated In Poor, Latino Neighborhoods

August 24, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- According to sociologist Andrew Szasz, environmental inequality lies beneath Silicon Valley's booming electronics industry. Szasz, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, analyzed census data and EPA records to produce maps that show toxic emissions concentrated in neighborhoods that tend to be poorer and more Latino than the rest of the county. His findings will be presented August 24 at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco, Calif.

The rapid transformation of Santa Clara County from a productive agricultural region to a major electronics manufacturing center made it ripe for study, said Szasz. Now, with compelling evidence of environmental inequality in the region, Szasz says the question is what to do to protect people from being systematically victimized because of their ethnicity and income level.

Szasz documents changes from 1960 to 1990 in the racial makeup and median income levels of neighborhoods, and he uses the EPA's Toxics Releases Inventory (TRI) to track the presence of toxic materials.

Many of the hazardous chemicals used in the computer chip manufacturing are included in the TRI list of toxic substances. In Santa Clara County, about 10 percent of TRI materials are emitted directly into the air; the bulk-nearly 75 percent in 1990-are shipped off-site to treatment and disposal facilities, according to Szasz.

Researchers agree that addressing the problem of environmental inequality requires understanding the processes that occur over to create unequal exposure to environmental risks. That, in turn, requires going beyond documenting inequalities at a single moment in time and doing local histories. Stasz's profile of Santa Clara County is one of less than 10 such studies. Unlike most of the others, which have typically focused on older industrial, "rust belt" cities, Szasz's work examines a community where more recent, "high technology," industrialization occurred.

Dr. Szasz and research associate Michael Meuser of UCSC will present their paper, "Incorporating Spatial, Temporal, and Demographic Factors into Environmental Justice Research" as part of an ASA Thematic Session entitled "Environmental Justice: Advances in Theory, Research and Methodology" on August 24 at 2:30 p.m.

Project maps and findings are posted on the following Web site:

Over five thousand participants are expected at the ASA Annual Meeting, August 21-25 at the San Francisco Hilton and Towers Hotel for hundreds of sessions and presentations on topics including immigration, affirmative action, families and children, health care, and welfare. Journalists are invited to register in the media office, located in rooms 1-2 Union Square on the 4th floor of the San Francisco Hilton, 333 O'Farrell Street.

The American Sociological Association, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and to promoting the contributions and use of sociology to society.

Contact ASA's public information office at (202) 833-3410 ext. 320, or call the ASA media room during the annual meeting at (415) 923-7549.

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