BLM: Environmental Justice (with Cesunica Ivey)

In this episode, students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy talk with Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Cesunica Ivey about environmental racism. 

FEATURING Cesunica Ivey
OCTOBER 2, 2020

In this episode, students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy talk with Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Cesunica Ivey about environmental racism.

About Cesunica Ivey: Cesunica Ivey has a background in mathematics, civil engineering, and environmental engineering, and she received her Ph.D. from Georgia Tech in 2016. Her research interests include source apportionment of fine particulate matter, regional air quality modeling for health applications, global atmospheric modeling, and environmental justice.

Learn more about Cesunica Ivey via

Podcast Highlights:

“Environmental justice impacts are multidimensional and they have long-term health and socioeconomic consequences simply because you grew up in an environment in a hazardous neighborhood.”

-       Cesunica Ivey on the topic of why your environment impacts not only your economic status, but also your health.

“GIS enabled us to visualize and geolocate hundreds of thousands of measurements...”

-       Cesunica Ivey on the topic of Geographic Information System Mapping aiding environmental justice research.

“Much of the Inland Empire is at risk for disproportionate environmental hazards because the land is cheap and it is plentiful compared to that in the coastal communities. This is very attractive to industrial developers, particularly Amazon.”

-       Cesunica Ivey on the topic of the presence of warehousing in Southern California, and specifically Riverside and San Bernardino County.


Cesunia Ivey (Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering)


Maddie Bunting (UCR Public Policy Major, Dean’s Chief Ambassador)

Paola Loera (UCR Public Policy Major, Dean’s Ambassador)

Music by:

C Codaine

This is a production of the UCR School of Public Policy:

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  • BLM: Environmental Racism (with Cesunica Ivey)

    Introduction: Welcome to Policy Chats, the official podcast of the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside. I’m your host, Maddie Bunting. Join me and my classmates as we learn about potential policy solutions for today’s biggest societal challenges. Joining us today is Dr. Cesunica Ivey, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Riverside. My fellow classmate, Paola Loera, and I chatted with her about the issue of environmental racism.


    Maddie Bunting: Dr. Ivey. Thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it. So you are an Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Riverside with many research interests including environmental justice. Can you talk a little bit about what environmental justice and racism is and why it's important.


    Cesunica Ivey: Absolutely. So first of all, environmental justice is a movement. It's a movement to protect vulnerable communities from being inundated with environmental hazards, such as superfund sites, landfills, and various industrial facilities that emit toxic pollutants. And so as a history in the environmental justice movement was started by a former UCR professor, Dr. Robert Bullard. He was a professor of sociology in the early 1990s. And he did research that identified the disproportionate existence of environmental hazards in minority communities. And he found that this was a pattern across the United States. And so his work highlighted that these Boehner, for what communities were very likely to have polluting facilities near their communities. And so it's really important to, to understand and highlight these patents because they have very serious implications for public health, for education, and for economics. So there have been numerous research studies, as well as anecdotal evidence that shows that living near an environmentally hazardous facility or near an interstate or a roadway is late to an increased risk of acquiring an infectious or non-infectious disease. And this inherently creates a disproportionate health burden on these vulnerable populations. Near hazardous facilities. So in addition to public health, environmental justice creates a problem for the disproportionate quality of education. The usual thought about minority communities in education is that they don't have great schools, they don't have great facilities. But this is not the entire case. So you have to consider the fact that the children that are living near in these environmental justice neighborhoods, they may become more sickly with chronic illnesses such as asthma. And this actually increases school absences. And this is what creates the learning disadvantage for, for those students, is being pulled out of school because the disease is associated with living in environmental justice communities. And the third I want to, I want to hit on in addition to health and education is economics. And so environmental justice has implications or environmental injustices has implications for, for economics. For instance, property values near these facilities, as well as the result of these properties, is severely impacted due to the presence of the facilities as no one wants to live there. So environmental justice impacts are multidimensional and they have long-term health and socioeconomic consequences simply because he grew up in an environmentally hazardous neighborhood?


    Paola Loera: Yeah, no, definitely, it's very interesting you say that because I know that's a hug issue here in the IEEE in relation to warehousing, which kind of leads into my next question. And you're also the principal investigator and use your air quality modeling and exposure laboratory. As I said at the end, the new hire is known for having poor air quality, formal student reasons, including truck traffic from Los Angeles and the large presence of warehousing and the IE. Can you explain the causes and effects of the situation?


    Cesunica Ivey: Yeah, absolutely. That's a great question. Truck traffic is an issue of contention as of late for very good reason. But first, I'd like to say, just as she mentioned, there are several sources of air pollution in the Inland Empire. However, it is true that a large fraction of these pollutants are emitted from heavy-duty vehicles. The other sources may include industrial facilities, small manufacturing shops, as well as off-road equipment like construction equipment,

    garden equipment, et cetera. So going back to trucks, as far as the relationship between Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. First all these truck trips, they actually originate at the port, okay. This is where goods are imported into the country. And so from the ports, the goods are moved by heavy duty truck from the port to warehouses in the Inland Empire. And from there they are distributed to the rest of the country or locally in California. So as it would have it as warehousing is expanding in the Inland Empire. The truck trips to and from these facilities will also increase. So I should note that these heavy-duty trucks, the engines within the heavy duty trucks are a lot cleaner than they used to be in terms of NOX and particulate matter pollution.

    But I should note that recent research has shown that this pollution removal efficiency, it has been found to decrease. This efficiency decreases in stop and go traffic. So what does, what does this mean for the IE? Well, when our highways are at normal commuter capacity, this puts a strain on that pollution removal efficiency. So as we increased warehousing we were increasing truck trips. It is also projected that the population and vehicle miles traveled and in the south coast, in the south coast is going to increase as well. Therefore, it is only logical to think that truck traffic and pollution will increase as well.


    Maddie Bunting: Well, the environment from the little I know about it, I'm very interested, but it seems very complicated. And unfortunately, a lot of human life aspects negatively affect the environment which we may not even think about or consider. I feel like we're just learning more and more and more as we, as we live. And I know you conduct a lot of research. And it is my understanding that you have GIS mapping. This is a very up incoming field within public policy, political science. For those listening who may not know, can you explain what GIS is and

    how it has played a role in your research of environmental justice?


    Cesunica Ivey: Yeah, absolutely. Before I get into the question, I'd like to give a shout out

    to the Center for Geo-Spatial Science directed by Serge Rey. And I'm also an affiliate faculty member of CGS. So I'm excited to see its growth. We can see that there is a tremendous need for

    GIS capabilities for Public Policy Research, as well as environmental research. You asked me about what is and how it's played a role in my research. Well, first of all, GIS is an acronym. It stands for geographic information system. And there are several GIS products that are used for mapping and visualization of the earth and its features. We can use GIS to map man-made features as well. So just a little bit more technical background. So this GIS mapping and visualization is actually facilitated by the Global Positioning System. And this is a series of satellites that provide the coordinates for our features of interests. So everything is based on latitude and longitude. So in terms of the use of GIS from our research, I actually collect GPS,

    positioning for air quality and exposure measurements. And I collect this for people, people that agreed to be part of my air pollution exposure studies. And so once we collect this information, we can use GIS to find the spatial patterns in these personal measurements of air quality and location. And so as an example, in my recent pilot study we actually use a GIS spatial clustering algorithm to find hundreds of thousands of these measurements. And we wanted to find any trends in people's pm2.5 exposure as a function of their residential location. And so this pilot study had 17 participants from four different cities, including San Bernardino, Riverside, Moreno Valley, and Redlands, as well as Yucipa. And so what we found was that of course as expected. And what we also see in the existing literature is that residential location was a proxy for exposure risk. So based on where a person lives, it is slightly, it will be synonymous with where they live. As an average exposure. However, what we found, which was very interesting,

    is that actually personal behaviors and personal choices, they play a very important role when it

    came to people's short term exposures. But indeed those short-term exposures were also slightly more. They were slightly higher for our environmental justice communities of San Bernardino compared to the others. And so GIS enables us to do this and enable us to visualize and geo-locate these hundreds of thousands of measurements. And our pilot study has implications for the way that we assess air pollution exposure risk and how we go about designing policy to mitigate these exposures.


    Paola Loera: Would you say that from your pilot study we're able to pinpoint the occurrence of these environmental racist policies are issues occurring within the IE where their patterns of mobility or economics that helped influence this. I know you mentioned residential areas. Was there anything else that you saw that impacts this?


    Cesunica Ivey: So as this was a pilot study, we didn't have enough data to generalize as far as mobility is concerned, that we are, we are able to identify points of interests that may be high risk for certain individuals and wants me expand our, our GIS space analysis to include more participants will be able to actually identify these high-risk locations, whether and whether or not these are voluntary trips or whether they're involuntary trips like where you go to work. Okay. So also, relatively speaking,  while my research mainly focuses on  air pollution, exposure disparities, I think it's fairly apparent from anecdotal evidence and from our own personal observations of the continued expansion of warehousing in the I0. That there are environmental justice issues here. So much of the Inland Empire, while there are more at risk communities than other spheres. But much of the Inland Empire is at risk for disproportionate environmental hazards because the land is cheap and it's plentiful compared to that in the coastal communities.

    And so this is very attractive to industrial developers, particularly Amazon. So with this continued expansion of warehousing as well as rezone parcel to support this industrial development. This is contributing to an increased risk for vulnerable communities. Okay, so I'd like to point out that resonant hits are actually fighting so slow these projects or reverse these decisions to rezone the parcels. But the concerns are oftentimes ignored at the city or the county management level, and they vote in favor of this reasoning and development in and around

    communities that are traditionally residential. So with that, I speak. Research is definitely needed to provide the data-driven evidence of these racial disparities in warehousing development. But it's pretty clear from anecdotal and just private observation that these things are happening there and apart. 


    Maddie Bunting: Yes. And it's unfortunate, and I know it's a topic of conversation amongst students. And I know faculty, you see where we're, we're very focused on our community and research within our communities. So we're finding these disparities. Unfortunately, the Inland Empire is not unique to issues of environmental justice or environmental racism. From the disproportionate effects of co-funding teen to wildfires in hearing California, it has been proven that racial and ethnic minorities face greater vulnerability to health and economic disparities, as you were mentioning earlier, it is an issue affecting communities across this nation as well as across the world. Can you think of any policies that should be or can be implemented to address and even prevent environmental racism?


    Cesunica Ivey: Well, absolutely, I think one of the main policy mechanisms that can be implemented when it comes to preserving the environmental sustainability of an already at this neighborhood is to have an environmental equity assessment. So not only do we have NEPA, which requires that an environmental impact assessment be conducted for new developments. We actually need to have an additional policy to assess environmental equity. That means we need to assess the history within that location of disproportionate environmental impacts and before a project is allowed to progress. If that score is too high, if the environmental injustice burden is too high for that community it weighs heavily. Other decisions whether or not to move forward with a project. I think that's really important. Our policy that may need to be enacted. So not only do we need to protect endangered species, but we need to have some sort of  environmental equity assessment that takes into account historically, historical burdens on a community.


    Maddie Bunting: So thank you so much for talking with us.


    Cesunica Ivey: Thank you both for having me.

    Outro: Policy Chats is a production of the UC Riverside, School of Public Policy. Our theme music was composed by C Codaine. I’m Maddie Bunting, ‘til next time.