, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 451-466

Environmental Justice, Local Knowledge, and Risk: The Discourse of a Community-Based Cumulative Exposure Assessment

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Abstract

While risk assessment continues to drive most environmental management decision-making, its methods and assumptions have been criticized for, among other things, perpetuating environmental injustice. The justice challenges to risk assessment claim that the process ignores the unique and multiple hazards facing low-income and people of color communities and simultaneously excludes the local, non-expert knowledge which could help capture these unique hazards from the assessment discourse. This paper highlights some of these challenges to conventional risk assessment and suggests that traditional models of risk characterization will continue to ignore the environmental justice challenges until cumulative hazards and local knowledge are meaningfully brought into the assessment process. We ask whether a shift from risk to exposure assessment might enable environmental managers to respond to the environmental justice critiques. We review the US EPA's first community-based Cumulative Exposure Project, piloted in Brooklyn, NY, and highlight to what extent this process addressed the risk assessment critiques raised by environmental justice advocates. We suggest that a shift from risk to exposure assessment can provide an opportunity for local knowledge to both improve the technical assessment and its democratic nature and may ultimately allow environmental managers to better address environmental justice concerns in decision-making.