Map Monday: Poverty vs. Toxic Release Inventory Sites in the Philips Neighborhood

This map is old but relevant today, given the debate at City Hall about environmental justice in the Phillips neighborhood. Almost 20 years ago, a few University of Minnesota professors did a GIS-based study (back in the early days of GIS) looking at how different toxic release geographic maps compared poverty and pollution at different scales. They were particularly focusing on the Phillips neighborhood, which has long been home to some of South Minneapolis’ most highly polluted pieces of land.

Here are a few maps, from the  1997 paper titled “GIS-based environmental equity and risk assessment: methodological problems and prospects.” The first shows “toxic release inventory” (TRI) sites in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood, overlaid on a poverty map:



This next one shows total “total TRI pounds” across the whole city, overlaid on a concentrated poverty map:

Finally, we have the same map except tweaked to show “relative toxicity”:


As you can see from these last two maps, what is being measured can really shift GIS information. The authors state up front that scale is very important for looking at these problems.

Here is one of the conclusions of the paper:


The point is that the debate over the “water works” site comes after a long legacy of environmental pollution in this neighborhood. No matter how you feel about the proposed development and purchase of the land, you have to admit that certain neighborhoods in Minneapolis have long been at the intersection of poverty and pollution.

(Also, this data is very old, as are the GIS tools available at the time. Things might have changed quite a bit. For example, how does the HERC plant fit into the picture?)


10 thoughts on “Map Monday: Poverty vs. Toxic Release Inventory Sites in the Philips Neighborhood

  1. Jeremy HopJeremy

    Isn’t it normal for certain areas be zoned industrial, therefore will see contaminated soil, water and air? I believe its natural to see lower priced land, homes be closer to sources such as industry, transportation and the like. Weather its fair to people is a whole other problem… Poverty is the problem, not industrial land. Jobs and important functions of society need somewhere to locate. Hiawatha has long been an industrial corridor.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      The history of who lives where and why is long and complicated, and can’t be summed up by market prices, although those are relevant too.

    2. Alex

      The downtown riverfront was also a center of industry historically, but it was recognized that due to the recreational opportunity of the river and the demand for housing for nearby workers that the land use should be changed. Similarly, with the recreational opportunity of the Midtown Greenway and the nearby access (not to mention infill station opportunity) to the Blue Line LRT there are some compelling arguments to transition land use in East Phillips and South Seward from industrial to residential. Additionally, today’s industrial uses demand more land and access to freeways than this area can provide, which is why parcels like the one at 26th & Minnehaha sit vacant for years. A conversation about changing the guidance in East Phillips to transitional industrial should start now in preparation for the next comp plan.

    3. Nathanael

      Industrial areas shouldn’t be contaminating the soil, water, and air. That was considered acceptable in the 19th century… it isn’t acceptable now and it shouldn’t be. They’re supposed to use “closed cycle” treatment of toxic products, cleaning up after themselves.

  2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    I’m trying to figure out what these three items are in the first map. Is the one to the southwest the old Honeywell plant, which is now offices? Is the one to the northeast gone now too?

    The third one is the foundry, which is still operating, right across from the Roof Depot facility current under discussion, right? Which is maybe the second largest dot on the last map too.

    1. Peter Bajurny

      I’m not sure exactly which plot it was on, but there was a fertilizer plant in this industrial zone in the past, which released enough arsenic into the atmosphere to make a superfund site of the surrounding area.

      I haven’t yet heard any argument that the foundry itself is responsible for any meaningful portion of air, ground, or water pollution, and have in fact heard accounts to the contrary.

      1. Joe ScottJoe Scott

        Here’s a summary of the Smith Foundry’s emissions:

        I’ve been told that lead is a significant portion of what makes it out of their smokestacks, but I can’t seem to find reliable information to that effect online. My understanding is iron ore contains a small amount of naturally occurring lead that is vaporized at smelting temperatures. According to the site above, they emit relatively less lead than most “facilities” (not sure if they’re comparing just other foundries, or pollution sources in general) but considering gasoline is no longer leaded, if they’re emitting any lead it’s likely a major contributor to the ambient lead contamination in the area. Whether that constitutes enough lead to make
        any difference I don’t know.

        They were fined in 2006 for a particulate violation related to equipment failure:$13871-penalty-for-air-quality-violations.html

        1. Nathanael

          The form in which lead is emitted matters. Gasoline lead (still used by private airplanes, disgustingly) comes out in a particularly bioabsorbable form. Metallic lead is poisonous but a lot less absorbable.

Comments are closed.