‘Warehouses in their backyards’: when Amazon expands, these communities pay the price

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Last year, with little warning, a new Amazon delivery station brought a rumble of semi-trailer trucks and delivery vans to Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood.

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The warehouse, located within 1,500 feet of five schools, is in a residential area where more than half the people within a mile have low incomes and about 90% are Hispanic.

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The neighborhood is one of hundreds across the US where Amazon’s dramatic expansion has spurred large commercial operations. Residents near the new warehouses say they face increased air pollution from trucks and vans, more dangerous roads for children walking or biking, and other quality-of-life issues such as clogged traffic and almost constant noise. Does matter.

According to a Consumer Reports (CR) investigation, most of these neighborhoods, like Gage Park, have higher numbers of residents of color and lower-income people than general neighborhoods in the same urban area.

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Chart showing the distribution of Amazon warehouses by the racial and ethnic makeup of their neighborhoods compared to the surrounding metro area. Most Amazon warehouses are in neighborhoods with people of color.

Jose Mendez, who has lived at Gage Park for 18 years, says his 5 a.m. commute now includes battling semis for space on a nearby residential street. His wife called Amazon to complain, but the trucks still follow.

Uriel Estrada, a college student who lives with his family not far from the warehouse, says having Amazon in the neighborhood isn’t a bad thing—packages arrive a lot faster than before. Still, he says, the noise and traffic are distracting. “In my house, you can feel it vibrating because there’s a bunch of trucks passing by,” he says.

To examine Amazon’s nationwide distribution network, CR combined commercially available information about the company’s warehouses with data from the Census Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency. In partnership with the Granthshala, CR also visited neighborhoods near Amazon warehouses in Chicago and the Los Angeles area. Here are the key findings from the investigation:

299 facilities opened in 2020

  • Amazon opens most of its warehouses in neighborhoods with comparatively high numbers of people of color. Nationally, 69% of Amazon’s warehouses have more people of color living within a mile than central neighborhoods in their metro areas. Some of these are communities where other industrial facilities already concern residents with poor air quality, excessive noise and traffic.

  • Neighborhoods are also poorer – 57% of Amazon warehouses are in communities with lower-income residents than is typical for a metro area.

  • This is in sharp contrast to Whole Foods and other Amazon retail stores. These tend to be located in affluent, white neighborhoods of a city, away from the communities where Amazon operates its warehouses.

  • Warehouse operators are generally not responsible for air pollution from accompanying trucks and vans. Existing air quality monitoring networks are too spread out to pick up local emissions.

  • Community activists are asking local, state and federal officials to control pollution from warehouse-related traffic and to consider an area’s existing environmental hazards before allowing new warehouses to open.

Amazon opens several warehouses for industrial use in areas where land is cheap. Researchers and local activists say a legacy of discriminatory policies at all levels of government means that many people living nearby are black or Hispanic.

CR’s investigation shows that areas where Amazon opens warehouses often have a proportion of people of color 70% or greater of the surrounding metro area.

Quinta Warren, Associate Director of Sustainability Policy at Consumer Reports, said, “Amazon is leveraging a national legacy of racist policies that have kept cities across the country apart for generations and resulted in health and environmental impacts on communities of color. Is.”

Map of the mostly-Hispanic area surrounding the Amazon warehouse in Gage Park, Chicago.

Decades of studies have shown that breathing in tiny particles of diesel and gasoline increases a person’s chances of developing asthma, getting cancer or having a heart attack. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. This type of pollution can also lead to premature birth and miscarriage.

“Our communities are being sacrificed in the name of economic development,” says Jose Acosta-Cordova of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in Chicago, one of several groups that have asked the city to withhold approval of new warehouses until That’s not the plan to distribute them more evenly.

Amazon’s Breakneck Expansion

Kovid-19 has been good for Amazon. Its worldwide sales topped $100bn in each of the last four fiscal quarters, repeatedly exceeding the threshold that few companies ever reach.

Meanwhile, the company began a massive expansion, according to a database of Amazon facilities CR purchased from MWPVL International, a firm that helps companies plan warehousing and distribution networks.

Between 2015 and 2019, Amazon opened an average of about 75 new warehouses a year — from giant warehouses that Amazon calls “fulfillment centers” to much smaller “delivery stations” that allow customers to receive packages within days or hours. gives.

Chart showing the number of Amazon warehouses opened from 1997 to 2000, reaching 299 in 2020.

But in 2020, Amazon opened nearly 300 new facilities — nearly as many as the last four years combined. Rapid expansion continued into 2021 — though final numbers are not available — and Amazon is bringing warehouses to dozens of new cities from Lubbock, Texas to Sioux Falls, SD and San Bruno, CA, to Ocala, FL.

When Amazon moves forward, residents will face traffic and pollution from trucks and vans, but could also benefit from the influx of new jobs, tax revenue from Amazon, or investments the company has made in local economies.

Amazon declined interview requests and did not provide detailed answers to CR’s questions. However, in an emailed statement, spokeswoman Maria Boschetti said, “Amazon is committed to using its scale for good and is not only a good employer, but a good community partner in the towns and cities in which we work as well.” Huh.”

Amazon, of course, isn’t the only company with warehouses that create traffic and air pollution. Some of its largest facilities are tied together with warehouses belonging to other giant retailers including Walmart, Target and Costco or logistics giants like FedEx and UPS.

“Our communities are being sacrificed in the name of economic development,” says Jose Acosta-Cordova of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in Chicago. Last year, Amazon opened a 316,550-square-foot warehouse in Chicago’s majority Hispanic Gage Park neighborhood. Photograph: Zbigniew Bzdak/The Granthshala and Consumer Reports

But Mark Wolfratt, president of MWPVL, says Amazon’s Covid-era expansion has eclipsed that of its competitors. Last year alone, the company opened more than two-thirds of its warehouse spaces as Walmart operates in total. Amazon’s delivery facilities are stacking up against dense residential neighborhoods, feeding off its incredible push to cut down on the wait between one customer submitting an order and another arriving at their door. In its 2020 surge, Amazon opened more than 115 warehouses within a mile of where at least 5,000 people live, according to CR’s analysis.

“Communities that host delivery facilities are the losers,” says Sacoby Wilson, director of the Center for Community Engagement, Environmental Justice and Health at the University of Maryland, College Park. Worked with CR to analyze the locations of Amazon facilities. “They get more traffic, air pollution, traffic jams and pedestrian safety problems, but they don’t get their fair share of benefits that come from having retail nearby.”

The huge warehouses that pop up in many communities make existing problems worse, from noise to local air pollution, researchers say. “People can get their Amazon packages and never think about the black and brown communities that are having warehouses in their backyards,” says Anna Baptista, associate director of the Tishman Environment and Design Center at The New School in New School. bear the brunt of it.” York City.

‘All the trucks started showing up’

About six years ago, Brian Kolde and his wife found their dream home in Fontana, a city in California’s Inland Empire, a sprawling metro area of ​​about 4.6 million people east of Los Angeles. The house is a plaster two storey surrounded by palm trees in a friendly neighborhood with a park nearby.

“We were happy,” he says. “Then Amazon came and all the trucks started showing up.”

The 680,000-square-foot Amazon warehouse moved just around the corner two years ago. Now, Kolde’s 11-year-old son keeps the TV on all night to beat the constant rumble of engines on the road. Kolde and his wife run a portable AC unit in their room for the same reason. “For a while, we would all be four peas in a pod, all together in a bed, because the kids would be scared of the noise,” he says. “Now they’re getting used to it.”

A traffic study by the project’s developer estimated that the Amazon warehouse and a smaller adjoining warehouse together made about 6,000 vehicle trips per day, including more than 2,300 diesel truck trips.

A big blue truck with the Amazon Prime emblem drives down the street with other cars and school puss
Amazon has opened hundreds of warehouses in urban areas such as Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood. This can add to the truck traffic and harmful…

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