The Existence of Environmental Racism Within the Omaha Community

Denay Grund and Kayla Cruz



Equality is a worldwide issue that even stretches to the environmental issues of the world. Certain underserved parts of a population are often burdened with environmental pollutants in their neighborhoods. Omaha is a famously segregated city, and the placement of potential environmental pollutants, such as lead, is a systematic part of this segregation. For this study, the secondary sources come from websites and organizations such as the U.S. Census Data and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The study is looking at the overall ethnic makeup in areas of Omaha at great risk of pollutants, and looking for the overall pollutant levels of areas in Omaha with a high percentage of minority groups. Using maps of the Superfund sites, this study examines where exactly each Superfund site is in the city and what ethnicities live there. The study found that most of the Superfund sites looked at are located along the Missouri, which is where most of these pollutants are being disposed in. These maps also helped find that all the Superfund sites examined are in areas where certain ethnicities live, and that these sites are giving out harmful pollutants and contaminating to these residential areas.


The Existence of Environmental Racism Within the Omaha Community


This project addresses the racial population in Omaha, Nebraska, and the proximity of environmental hazards to these populations. Looking at these, the goal is to assess whether environmental racism is alive in Omaha and whether it has affected the present day racial composition versus the historical racial composition at the time these pollutants most greatly affected those around them. The data will mainly consist of the EPA’s Superfund site data and information and the United States Census data for this comparison. There will be themes consisting of Superfund Sites that will be broken down in accordance to each sites’ names, location, and pollutants. There will be a Historic Site Information theme for data on when the companies that created the pollutant were developed and how long they ran and the type of pollutant they gave out. The two other themes include Racial Demographics and Historical Racial Demographics. The Racial Demographic category will be broken down into counties and then regions within Omaha, such as North, West, Central, and South Omaha. This information will come from government census data from 2010. As for the Historical Racial Demographic category, information will come from literature (mainly online) on the location of various groups. This data, since not explicitly plotted on a map, will then be plotted using old neighborhoods and written accounts. These themes will represent how race and environmental pollutants have interacted and continue to do so within Omaha, Nebraska.

Literature Review

One of the first articles researched was “Latinos seek environmental justice and public discourse for underserved communities in the united states” by D. A. Anque, and C. N. Doval (Anque, Doval; 2014). This article addresses the threat that much of the Latino population in the United States is under in terms of environmental hazards, such as unclean drinking water, and hazardous waste sites. The paper states that this is an especially harmful hazard in farm settings where the lack of sanitation is disastrous for Latino workers. It goes on to address that many of these companies find loopholes in laws and regulations so that their work environments go unchecked (Anque, Doval; 2014). The article adds that these detrimental hazards facing the Latino population could shape the Latino vote and future environmental policies. This article could provide information for how these environmental hazards affect the Latino population and then be applied to the Latino population here in Omaha. This article’s information for the effects of environmental hazards could then be used to either support or deny the claim that environmental racism exists within the Omaha community on a significant scale.

The next article examined titled, “Inequality at birth: Some causes and consequences” by J. Currie, addressed how the prenatal period and exposure to environmental hazards could influence how the children grow into either successful or unsuccessful adults (Currie; May 2011). Their prediction is that poor and minority communities are more at risk for environmental pollutants and that these pollutants could cause significant damage to developing fetus’ in the prenatal period. This argument would then counteract the suggestion that disparities among the minority populations is genetic. Looking at premature births and birth weights, the article shows that white college educated mothers are more likely to have less premature births and larger birth weights. Along with this, the paper shows that white college educated mothers are more likely to live in Superfund sites after cleanup whereas minority mothers are more likely to live near these sites before any cleanup is done. This is interpreted as evidence of minority mothers and their developing children as being more at risk for the possible health effects due to living near Superfund sites (Currie; May 2011). This article has the potential to add information on both adults and children who are being exposed to environmental hazards and how this could impact their opportunities later in life. Looking at the prenatal period in Omaha could benefit this study in terms of how environmental racism has a deeper and longer lasting effect on minority populations.

This article addresses the question of how racial composition, income levels, and environmental hazards interact with one another and if race and income jointly cause environmental disparities or separately affect one’s risks (Downey, Hawkins; 2008). “Race, income, and environmental inequality in the united states” by L. Downey and B. Hawkins hypothesizes that racial groups of the same income level should have varying degrees of environmental hazards near them. To find this, information on the number of toxic chemicals released was gathered and then a radius of pollution risk drawn. Along with this, 2000 U.S. census data were collected on racial demographics and income levels. The article concluded that the data showed black, white, and Hispanic households of similar income levels had differing degrees of environmental quality. It was also found that increases in income levels were associated with environmental improvement in black households more than white households (Downey, Hawkins; 2008). This article provides knowledge on what variables we should be looking at (racial composition over income levels) and how/if race and environmental disparities are correlated within the Omaha community.

The last paper reviewed was titled, “Hazardous waste cleanup, neighborhood gentrification, and environmental justice: Evidence from restricted access census block data” by S. Gamper-Rabindran and C. Timmins addresses the idea that Superfund cleanups may instead benefit those who move into the area (richer households) instead of helping those originally settled there (Gamper-Rabindran, Timmins; May 2011). The authors looked at Superfunds throughout the United States and their status as either cleaned up, on the list to be cleaned, and those deleted from the list. While looking at these, they compared it to the income and minority demographics within each area before and after their verdict. The article found that the migration of richer households was common once Superfunds were cleaned up, but the minority demographics did not shift. This led to an idea that poorer minorities were being replaced by richer minorities (Gamper-Rabindran, Timmins; May 2011). This study could provide insight into how the threat of environmental hazards affects those living in the area once the threat is removed or reduced, and insight into how exactly income and minority status interact within the Omaha area and if they both contribute to one’s proximity to environmental hazards.

This project on environmental racism and its presence in Omaha, NE is unlike other studies done before. The project is different because it focuses more on the racial point of environmental problems and how the pollutants directly affect specific areas in Omaha, and Ethnicities. It examined all the Superfund sites in Omaha, and then it was determined where each Superfund site was in the Omaha area; such as North Omaha, South Omaha, West Omaha, and Central Omaha. Most studies usually just discuss the pollution sites in the city of Omaha and their effects on the population, but this project specifically looks at how theses Superfund sites are in different areas where certain ethnicities live. For example, it was found that one of the Superfund sites was in North Omaha, polluting the soil with lead contaminants, which is where most of the African American population lives. This goes to show that environmental racism does occur in Omaha, because all the Superfund sites examined were in areas where certain ethnicities lived.


Data and Maps

West Omaha Racial Demographics
County Tract Total Population White African American Asian AIAN NHPI Hispanic and Other
NE – Douglas County – Census Tract 74.48 2,804 2,721 17 31 2 0 33
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 74.08
4,124 3,436 250 67 32 20 319
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 74.54
4,548 4,262 78 96 8 2 102
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 74.52
5,277 4,943 39 193 6 9 87
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 75.13
4,828 4,530 37 160 2 2 97
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 74.05
2,192 1,754 230 128 27 1 52
Average of Census Data 3,962 3,608 108 112 13 6 115
Percentages of Racial Group compared to the Average total population 100% 91.06% 2.73% 2.83% 0.33% 0.15% 2.90%

Table-1 West Omaha Racial Demographics

Central Omaha Racial Demographics
County Tract Total Population White African American Asian AIAN NHPI Hispanic and Other
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 18
3,970 2,857 778 83 39 1 212
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 38
4,203 2,764 394 41 44 7 953
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 70.01
3,944 3,041 337 199 28 1 338
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 66.02
5,613 4,760 384 227 26 0 216
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 68.05
3,239 3,034 44 94 8 0 59
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 74.67
4,712 3,942 228 98 40 3 401
Average of Census Data 4,280 3,400 361 123 31 2 363
Percentages of Racial Group compared to the Average total population 100% 79.44% 8.43% 2.88% 0.72% 0.05% 8.48%

Table-2 Central Omaha Racial Demographics

South Omaha Racial Demographics
County Tract Total Population White African American Asian AIAN NHPI Hispanic and Other
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 70.03
2,403 1,869 55 13 37 1 428
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 31
3,722 2,240 182 32 67 2 1,199
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 25
2,557 1,579 49 13 59 10 847
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 71.02
3,627 2,851 46 48 43 0 639
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 30
7,061 4,047 166 41 76 7 2,724
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 28
3,584 1,801 75 17 70 2 1,619
Average of Census Data 3,826 2,398 95 27 59 4 1,243
Percentages of Racial Group compared to the Average total population 100% 62.68% 2.48% 0.71% 1.54% 0.10% 32.49%

Table-3 South Omaha Racial Demographics


North Omaha Racial Demographics
County Tract Total Population White African American Asian AIAN NHPI Hispanic and Other
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 73.04
1,528 1,294 173 12 2 0 47
NE – Douglas County
-Census Tract 63.01
2,263 933 1,184 7 22 1 116
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 61.02
4,145 1,367 2,314 26 46 1 391
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 59.02
2,136 317 1,595 13 29 0 182
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 54
3,110 1,219 1,344 127 41 6 373
NE – Douglas County
– Census Tract 57
4,466 3,023 1,018 41 39 10 335
NE – Douglas County – Census
Tract 5 – Block Group 1
1,100 783 215 21 4 0 77
NE – Douglas County – Census
Tract 5 – Block Group 2
1,228 763 350 7 48 1 59
Average of Census data 2,497 1,212 1,024 32 29 2 198
Percentages of Racial Group compared to the Average total population 100% 48.54% 41.01% 1.28% 1.16% 0.08% 7.93%

Table-4 North Omaha Racial Demographics


Superfund Sites in Omaha
Street: J AVE. & 22ND STREET
City / State / ZIP: OMAHA, NE 68101
NPL Status: Not on the NPL
Non-NPL Status: Referred to Removal – NFRAP
EPA ID: NEN000704909
EPA Region: 07
Latitude: +41.2835
Longitude: -095.8973
Federal Facility Flag: Not a Federal Facility
Contaminant: lead
Street: 20TH & CENTER
City / State / ZIP: OMAHA, NE 68108
NPL Status: Not on the NPL
Non-NPL Status: NFRAP-Site does not qualify for the NPL based on existing information
EPA ID: NEN000704908
EPA Region: 07
Latitude: +41.2416
Longitude: -095.9429
Federal Facility Flag: Not a Federal Facility
Contaminant: Unknown (lead)
City / State / ZIP: OMAHA, NE 68111
NPL Status: Not on the NPL
Non-NPL Status: Addressed as Part of Another non-NPL Site
Parent Site: FORT OMAHA (EX)
EPA ID: NE1170090012
EPA Region: 07
Latitude: +41.307778
Longitude: -95.958611
Federal Facility Flag: Federal Facility
Incident Category: Military Related
Contaminant: Unknown
Street: 3520 I STREET
City / State / ZIP: OMAHA, NE 68107
NPL Status: Not on the NPL
Non-NPL Status: Referred to Removal – NFRAP
NFFA: The EPA has determined that no further federal action (NFFA) will be taken at this site.
EPA ID: NEN000703777
EPA Region: 07
Federal Facility Flag: Not a Federal Facility
Incident Category: Manufacturing Plant
Contaminant: Asbestos
Street: 1126 N 11TH ST
City / State / ZIP: OMAHA, NE 68102
NPL Status: Not on the NPL
Non-NPL Status: Referred to Removal – NFRAP
EPA ID: NED065122087
EPA Region: 07
Latitude: +41.270810
Longitude: -095.930800
Federal Facility Flag: Not a Federal Facility
Incident Category: Abandoned
Contaminant: Unknown
City / State / ZIP: OMAHA, NE 681021895
NPL Status: Site is Part of NPL Site
Parent Site: OMAHA LEAD
EPA ID: NED007257413
EPA Region: 07
Latitude: +41.253333
Longitude: -095.922778
Federal Facility Flag: Not a Federal Facility
Incident Category: Other
Contaminant: Unknown (lead)
American Smelting and Refining Company
500 Douglas Street for over 125 years
Aaron Ferer & Sons Company (Aaron Ferer),
and later the Gould Electronics, Inc., (Gould)
lead battery recycling plant

555 Farnam Street
1 in 3 residential yards have lead in the soil at concentrations above the health-based limit of
400 parts per million (ppm).  approximately 27 square miles and includes more than 40,000 properties that released lead-containing particulates from their smokestacks which were deposited on surrounding residential properties.

Table-5 EPA Superfund Site Information

Historical Superfund Information
Name active dates
(manufactured lead based white paint
pigments at site)
active from 1881 to 1926
FORMER OMAHA WHITE LEAD and Gould Electronics, Inc. active from 1954
to 1963
WESTERN MINERAL PRODUCTS active from 1940s to 1989
ECONOMIC PRODUCTS CO INC- OMAHA first inspected in Dec. 1, 1981, last action taken Sep. 30, 1986
ASARCO OMAHA-OFF SITE and American Smelting and Refining Company active from 1871
to 1997

Table-6 Superfund Site Active Dates

Historical Racial Demographics
Race Locations
African Americans neighborhoods – majority in North Omaha and Downtown Omaha, began
migrating to Omaha in mid 1800s, numbers rose quickly into the 1900s
Mexican Americans neighborhoods – majority in South Omaha, near the Missouri River.
Near South 72nd and Q streets lived among the other immigrant populations
of Little Bohemia and Little Italy from the 1900s and onward growing rapidly
in numbers by the mid to late 1990s
Czech Americans neighborhoods – Little Bohemia In the 1860s many Czechs immigrated to
Nebraska. 1880 Czechs were the most concentrated ethnic group in the city.
Greek Americans 1880s. A substantial neighborhood in South Omaha, “Greek Town.”
major riot in 1909 community never fully recovered.
Irish Americans neighborhoods – near north side and south of downtown in the 1870s and
1880s, by 1880s throughout downtown more
Jewish Americans neighborhoods throughout early 1900s to 1980s many lived in Downtown
Omaha and the Near North Side, since then have moved to West Omaha in
the late 20th and 21st centuries
Polish Americans mostly early 1900s, lived in the Burlington Road neighborhood, Sheelytown,
and the city’s “Little Poland”. This neighborhood extended west from South
25th to South 29th, F Street south to L Street and eventually extended west to South 45th Street.
Italian Americans neighborhoods – little Italy in south Omaha, Pacific Street on the north,
Center Street on the south, South 10th Street on the west and the Missouri
River on the east through 1900s and 1970s

Table-7 Historical Racial Demographics


Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 9
Figure 10



Key to Figure 10

Discussion and Analysis

Discussion and Results

To gather racial demographics of the Omaha area, this study looked towards the U.S. census data website and mapper. As shown in Figure-9, the data is split into small tracts within Omaha and is quite detailed. Using a map of regions within Omaha and then modifying to provide more equal sized regions, a map of the racial demographics within specific regions was created (Figure-1). The data on the racial demographics of these regions are provided in Tables 1 through 4 and in Figures 2 through 5. The regions created were divided into North, South, West, and Central Omaha. An average of several tracts within each region was calculated and then calculated into a percentage to provide an estimate of the distribution of race throughout Omaha. In comparison to the others, North Omaha had the highest African American population at 41.01%, it is almost equal to that of the white population at 48.54% (Table-4). South Omaha turned out to have 32.49% Hispanic and other racial population, higher than that of the other three (Table-3). West Omaha by far had the highest white racial group percentage coming in at 91.06% (Table-1). Central Omaha could be considered mid-way between the other three with the majority still being white, yet almost equal percentages of African American (8.43%) and Hispanic and other (8.48%) (Table-2). The other racial groups of Asian, American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN), and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) saw no real distinct increase or decrease depending on the regions. Given this data, we were expected to find a very distinct difference in Superfund Site distribution among these groups that could then be lead to the conclusion of environmental racism as a driving force.

To discover if the hypothesis that environmental racism is alive in Omaha was likely valid, the type of pollutant and polluters had to be chosen. For this study the EPA’s listed Superfund sites were chosen as the main avenue for looking spatially at environmental racism as a social issue. The sites listed include, the Former Carter White Lead facility/area which produced lead contaminates from 1881 to 1926, the Former Omaha White Lead facility which also produced lead but from 1954 to 1963, and Naval Support Activity, which listed as the only Federal Facility had no contaminates listed and available to the public and no active date range (Table-5, Table-6, and Figure-6). Additionally, there were Western Mineral Products that produced Asbestos from the 1940s till 1989, and Economic Products CO Inc, which has a listed unknown contaminate and was first investigated on December 1, 1981 with the last action taken against its producing in September 30, 1986 (Table-5, Table-6, and Figure-6). Furthermore, other sites included two American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) sites that produced lead contaminates from 1871 to 1997, and the Aron Ferer & Sons Company, and later the Gould Electronics, Inc., that was a lead battery recycling plant active from 1953 to 1963 (Table-5, Table-6, and Figure-6). The study then plotted these sites’ latitude and longitude on an Omaha map to show their distribution within the Omaha area. What was quickly noticed was the sites’ proximity to the river and how they all seemed to be in relatively close together.

The final theme used to study environmental racism within Omaha is historical racial information that dates to approximately the same time as the Superfund sites were physically up and running. Looking at historical information it was found that very little if anything exists that maps out racial demographics of Omaha during this time. To collect this information written records and old race specific neighborhoods were plotted and used to provide a historical take on environmental racism that may have existed in the past. The data collected included areas where African, Irish, Polish, Mexican, Italian, Czech, Jewish, and Greek Americans lived during the late 1800s and onward (Table-7).

            Two overlays were created to visually see how race and Superfund site location interacted. On the map, there were four specified regions and current population demographics overlaid with the Superfund sites themselves (Figure-7). The map showed that West Omaha had 0 Superfund sites within its boarders, Central Omaha had 5 sites, North Omaha 2 sites, and South Omaha had 1 site. This shows a positive correlation between minority races and Superfund sites. Though unexpected was the amount of Superfund sites within the Central Omaha Region. While most occurred in the buffer zone between North and South Omaha, based on the racial profile and the literature review the most sites, were predicted to be in the North or South, but instead were right in the middle. There is no doubt cross over of pollutants, especially airborne, from one region to the next existed, but without exact radial data the extent of the hazards are unknown.

Additionally, another overlay was created with the historical racial data based on the locations of historic neighborhoods. While these racial groups had many neighborhoods, the main ones were chosen as racial indicators (Figure-10). This map was then combined with the Superfund site locations to produce a map of the historical relationship between race and pollutants. On Figure-8, it is shown that all the racial groups listed within this period of active pollution are near the hazards. The Italian, Irish, Czech and Polish American populations appear to be even closer to the hazards than the other groups, an idea that differs from that of the current pollution and race overlay. This data reveals that not only current residents near these sites could be facing hazardous conditions, but also those who lived in these areas in the past and their relatives could be experiencing health problems even though their family moved farther from the area years ago. This overlay demonstrates the idea that everyone within Omaha has had a relative risk for pollutant poisoning throughout the years.

Based on these conclusions, the evidence in favor of environmental racism existing within Omaha is not strong enough to conclude it as definitive. While it appears to be that minority racial groups are more likely to live near Superfund sites, racism as its cause cannot be proven with this study. Too many variables still exist that could be contributing to these results. Since this research is exploratory in nature, this serves as a stepping stone for more detailed and proof-driven research.


This study involving the comparison of Omaha’s Racial Demographics and Superfunds while thought out still has its limits. One of these is the quality and mode in which the U.S. census data was provided and used. The census data available at its soonest was gathered in 2010. Census data from more recent years, if would have been available, would be more reliable. The data available were also broken down from counties, then to census tract, a large leap in terms of area distribution. In this study, we took samples from each of the main Omaha regions and averaged these to create an accurate representation of the racial demographics in Omaha. It would have been preferred to record all the census tracts so that an approximate population size could be determined. Due to time constraints and study size, these goals could not be achieved unless part of a larger study.

Furthermore, the way the census data broke up into racial versus ethic demographics was not without flaws in design. The categories of race listed were White, African American, Asian, American Indian and Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, Two or more races, and Some other race. Conversely, the categories of ethnicity were Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. The separation of race and ethnic categories causes issues with accurate racial categories in accordance with actual people. These very basic categories do not span the vast ethic identities of the world and of Omaha. Also, those of Hispanic or Latino descent have no category to choose when faced with the racial categories. In theory those people may identify with the other race category, but looking at the ethnic demographics reveals this to be no the case.  The categories themselves gives rise to accurate data collection of the racial backgrounds of people in Omaha and elsewhere. Primary data collection by use of survey with more categories could offer a way to solve the limits of the U.S. census data in further study.

Along with these comes limitations in the accuracy of racial demographics within the years the Superfund sites were actively adding pollutants. Data from the late 1880s onward is difficult to come by in terms of specific racial distribution and may not be available to researchers. This study instead looked at the historical neighborhood to get a sense of where various groups were living now. If researchers are allotted access to detailed maps of racial demographics from this time, if available, this could greatly help the validity of the study of the existence of environmental racism with Omaha. In addition, differing definitions of race could provide a slight limitation in terms of comparison with today’s data. The U.S. census data does not consider specific ethnicities within the white racial group just as past data does not list any mention of Asian or Native populations that may have been present in Omaha.

Moreover, the Superfund site information is also lacking, causing limitations in the quality of this study. On the EPA’s website information on all the sites contaminants and contaminate range is not available to the public restricting the ability to accurately portray the range these contaminates may have affected populations surrounding them. Furthermore, the EPA only lists eight Superfund sites, many of which are parts of each other. This doesn’t account for the other possible contaminates that may be in the air, water, or soil currently. These Superfund sites were not recognized as such years after they were actively producing pollutants. There could be current pollutants not yet known and acting upon us within this community. A deep study of pollution, hazardous to human life would be needed to be researched to provide the most information on pollutes affecting certain populations.

Conclusion and Future Study

            Environmental racism is a complex and multifaceted issue within this society. Whether it has been proven to be true here within Omaha the discussion of environmental pollutants and racial segregation will continue to be debated among all people. Although this study did examine race and Superfund sites the continuous study of this area could provide invaluable insight to help those dealing with environmental hazards. Continuation of this study could include more recent and numerous data on race within Omaha to get a more accurate representation of race. The discussion on environmental pollutants could extend to other air and water pollutants, especially in drinking water since it has been observed that many of these sites were along the river. However, this study is continued it provides a doorway into the interactions of race and environmental hazards within this community, a danger that involves all of us.




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