Distribution of environmental justice metrics for exposure to CAFOs in North Carolina, USA

Ji Young Son, Rebecca L. Muenich, Danica Schaffer-Smith, Marie Lynn Miranda, Michelle L. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Background: Several studies have reported environmental disparities regarding exposure to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Public health implications of environmental justice from the intensive livestock industry are of great concern in North Carolina (NC), USA, a state with a large number and extensive history of CAFOs. Objectives: We examined disparities by exposure to CAFOs using several environmental justice metrics and considering potentially vulnerable subpopulations. Methods: We obtained data on permitted animal facilities from NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Using ZIP code level variables from the 2010 Census, we evaluated environmental disparities by eight environmental justice metrics (i.e., percentage of Non-Hispanic White, Non-Hispanic Black, or Hispanic; percentage living below the poverty level; median household income; percentage with education less than high school diploma; racial residential isolation (RI) for Non-Hispanic Black; and educational residential isolation (ERI) for population without college degree). We applied two approaches to assign CAFOs exposure for each ZIP code: (1) a count method based on the number of CAFOs within ZIP code; and (2) a buffer method based on the area-weighted number of CAFOs using a 15 km buffer. Results: Spatial distributions of CAFOs exposure generally showed similar patterns between the two exposure methods. However, some ZIP codes had different estimated CAFOs exposure for the different approaches, with higher exposure when using the buffer method. Our findings indicate that CAFOs are located disproportionately in communities with higher percentage of minorities and in low-income communities. Distributions of environmental justice metrics generally showed similar patterns for both exposure methods, however starker disparities were observed using a buffer method. Conclusions: Our findings of the disproportionate location of CAFOs provide evidence of environmental disparities with respect to race and socioeconomic status in NC and have implications for future studies of environmental and health impacts of CAFOs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110862
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • CAFOs
  • Disparities
  • Environmental justice
  • Vulnerable population

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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