Slow Disaster Case Studies Summer 2021

The following case study reports focus on routine, everyday air and water pollution in California. 

We describe routine pollution as  “slow disaster” because the impacts are drawn out and cumulative, causing harm slowly, increasing rates of asthma, cancer and heart disease. In many ways, slow pollution disasters are more difficult to deal with than fast, explosive disasters because people don’t pay attention to them or even think they are normal – especially in communities of color. Often, communities have to organize and fight to get their concerns about pollution heard and addressed by government officials. Often, particular people play important leadership roles. Sometimes, these people are residents impacted by a polluting facility. Sometimes, leading figures in fights for environmental justice are professionals – physicians who work in the community or engineers who work inside the polluting facilities.  This case study describes many different stakeholders in routine pollution and the actions they have taken -- and not taken -- to improve environmental conditions. 

The report addresses a series of ten questions that draw out local details in a manner that encourages comparison with other places. The research has been done quickly (within the constraints of a quarter-long undergraduate class) so is limited to and points to the need for further research and community engagement. The goal is to help build both a body of research on environmental injustice and a network of researchers ready to help conceptualize and implement next-generation environmental protections. 


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Created date

July 11, 2021

Group Audience

Cite as

Kaitlyn Rabach , Tim Schütz and Kim Fortun. 11 July 2021, "Slow Disaster Case Studies Summer 2021", Disaster STS Network, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 12 July 2021, accessed 15 August 2022.