Frauen in der Landwirtschaft

Social and Cultural Geography

Environmental inequalities in polluted environments

In times of global environmental crisis, there is an urgent need to study the ways that pollution affects people and their everyday lives. This is particularly important in remote areas like Taranto, in the periphery of Europe, where environmental controls are absent and economic interests and jobs are prioritised over health. Taranto, known as territorio malato (sick environment) is a high-risk environmental area and hosts Europe’s largest and most polluting steel plant. The city contributes to 80% of Italy’s and almost 10% of Europe’s dioxin emissions (European Commission, 2016). Due to the high dioxin levels, Taranto’s residents have higher risk of early death, respiratory diseases, reproductive problems and cancer (Mangia et al., 2013). Despite strong scientific evidence on residents’ health problems related to industrial pollution, politicians and the media often blame residents’ health problems on their ‘unhealthy lifestyles’ such as smoking and bad eating habits (Greco, 2016). As environmental scholars globally have argued, such stigmatisation is based on old stereotypes and historical representations of ‘the South’ as ‘backward’ and ‘inferior’ to the North. The project is situated within health geographies, which explore how the interactions of humans, materials and the environment shape and constrain health, wellbeing and survival (Brown et al., 2018). I combine health geographies with environmental justice scholarship, which argues that pollution affects specific people in specific places and enforces environmental inequalities regarding race, gender, class and other social categories (Pulido, 2017a). This project shows the unequal burdens and benefits of industrial production sites in Europe that still are largely ignored in public discourse and academic scholarship – despite increasing awareness on and protests against global environmental problems. The study therefore asks, whose health matters? How do residents in Taranto experience living in a polluted environment and how does it affect their everyday lives? It responds to the urgent call for identifying what environmental inequality actually means and therefore, complements epidemiological studies on polluted environments.

Project Timeline


Involved Researcher

Maaret Jokela-Pansini