It should come as no surprise that studies suggest that long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution common to many metropolitan areas is an important risk factor for the development of cardiopulmonary diseases (i.e. asthma, bronchitis) and lung cancer mortality (Rios, et al., 2004; Pope, et al., 2002). Individuals most at risk from exposure to such air pollution are children, asthmatic adults and children, individuals with pre-existing heart or lung disease, and the elderly (US EPA, 1997). Fine particle air pollution often comes from fuel combustion power plants, vehicle emissions, diesel buses and trucks, and from construction and demolition activities.
Environmental justice adds an additional layer to this pre-existing framework by recognizing that urban communities located near major construction and demolition projects and/or near major interstate highways may be disproportionately impacted by air pollution. More often than not, these communities are poorer and more likely to be comprised disproportionately of minorities.
Though environmental quality is still a primary concern in environmental justice determinations, over time EJ has come to be more broadly interpreted to include the assurance of equity in the planning for and distribution of public resources, which determine the opportunities available to nearby residents. In the particular case of transportation planning, an environmental justice determination would not focus simply on the negative health burdens of a transportation project, but would also examine the distribution of transportation benefits — access, mobility, and service quality — across different groups. In that same vein, an environmentally just planning process would ensure that all affected parties had equal access to information and opportunity to participate in project planning and decision-making.