Study: Non-whites more exposed to environmental hazards

Risk exposure for Hispanics was 6.2 times higher than whites, and 5.8 times higher for African Americans.
By Brooks Hays   |   Sept. 17, 2015 at 6:02 PM

BERKELEY, Calif., Sept. 17 (UPI) -- According to a new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, African Americans and Hispanics are more exposed to health risks like air pollution, toxic waste and a lack of green space.

The study -- a tag-team effort between researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the California Environmental Protection Agency -- used a new online tool that maps environmental health hazards.

The tool, called CalEnviroScreen, amalgamates 11 different hazards, including exposure to particle pollution, ozone and pesticides, traffic congestion and proximity to toxic waste sites. These risks are combined with socioeconomic factors, like age, health, wealth and education, to get a single numerical score. The higher the score, the higher the risk exposure.

When risk scores were plotted, neighborhood by neighborhood, and compared with data on race, researchers found African Americans and Hispanics to total consistently higher scores than non-Hispanic white residents. Maps showing the most exposed neighborhoods are posted online.

"What's unique about this study is that we are looking at multiple hazards at once and including factors that make populations more vulnerable to the effects of pollution, such as age and disease status," lead study lead author Lara Cushing, a Ph.D. student at Berkeley, said in a press release. "Still, it is surprising to see such a consistent and stark disparity by race when it comes to the burden of environmental health hazards. It was a bigger factor than income."

Risk exposure for Hispanics was 6.2 times higher than whites, and 5.8 times higher for African Americans. Asians and Native American face double the environmental health hazard risks compared to whites.

"The findings indicate that people of color -- especially African American and Latino Californians -- are much more likely than white Californians to be exposed to both environmental and social stressors that impact health," said Cushing. "People can't use this environmental justice screening tool to calculate the probability that they will develop cancer or asthma, but it can and should be used by state regulators and others to focus their efforts to benefit disproportionately impacted communities."

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