Risk perceptions and the maintenance of environmental injustice in Appalachia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Coal impoundment failures in Appalachia have caused some of the most devastating environmental disasters in U.S. history. However, people living near impoundments today report low levels of worry about coal waste disasters. This paper connects the literature on environmental risk perceptions and environmental justice to explain the socioeconomic, geographic, and ideological factors that correlate with impoundment failure worry. Survey data collected from more than 500 households in southern West Virginia shows that residents with lower levels of trust in the coal industry and those who perceive themselves as living closer to an impoundment have greater worries of an impoundment failure. However, household distance to an impoundment and living in the region during past disasters did not have a significant effect on risk perceptions. These results highlight how risk habituation in disadvantaged communities maintains environmentally unequal outcomes over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEnvironmental Sociology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019

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risk perception
impoundment
coal
disaster
justice
resident
habituation
environmental justice
industry
coal industry
history
environmental risk
community

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

Cite this

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abstract = "Coal impoundment failures in Appalachia have caused some of the most devastating environmental disasters in U.S. history. However, people living near impoundments today report low levels of worry about coal waste disasters. This paper connects the literature on environmental risk perceptions and environmental justice to explain the socioeconomic, geographic, and ideological factors that correlate with impoundment failure worry. Survey data collected from more than 500 households in southern West Virginia shows that residents with lower levels of trust in the coal industry and those who perceive themselves as living closer to an impoundment have greater worries of an impoundment failure. However, household distance to an impoundment and living in the region during past disasters did not have a significant effect on risk perceptions. These results highlight how risk habituation in disadvantaged communities maintains environmentally unequal outcomes over time.",
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