Environmental Justice issues are not limited to pollution outside.
In the world of environmental justice (EJ), there are many articles and discussions around the impacts from pollution that occur outdoors – industrial pollution, contaminated water bodies, mobile emissions, and other air quality impacts; however, many low income, minority communities often suffer from residential exposure to harmful contaminants that either occur indoors or infiltrate from outdoors. Let’s examine a few articles that have covered this topic.
In Moving Environmental Justice Indoors: Understanding Structural Influences on Residential Exposure Patterns in Low-Income Communities, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2011, the authors explore disparities in indoor residential environmental quality. Below are some pertinent observations/ conclusions based on their research:
- People in low income communities are more likely to live closer to mobile and stationary sources of pollution which increases the chance of outdoor pollution infiltrating indoors
- Low income homes are often older and not as structurally sound (having holes). This may lead to increased infiltration from outdoors.
- Homes within low income communities are more likely to have peeling paint which is a predictor of lead exposure in older homes; water leaks which are a predictor of mold and moisture development; and structural issues that serve as entry points for cockroaches and other pests
- Communities with low socioeconomic status are more likely to experience second hand smoke particularly people who live within older multifamily buildings because the air infiltrates from unit to unit
- One study has shown that lead concentrations in household dust, associations were found with income, race/ethnicity, floor surface or condition, and year of construction
- Residential infestation of pests is linked to low socioeconomic status
- Residential exposure to pesticides is more prominent in low income communities due to infestation
This research study explores several angles of exposure to indoor environmental justice issues each can be explored further as stand-alone research to further validate the connections between low socioeconomic status and EJ.
The Boston Globe published in article in April 2016 reporting Low Income, minority areas seen as lead poisoning hot spots. While this article is focused on Massachusetts this may be reflective of issues within your community as well. Here are a few findings as revealed within this article:
- Cases where children have harmful levels of lead in their blood are predominantly in low income and minority communities
- Boston has a citywide rate of lead poisoning at 2.8% but pockets within Dorchester (an overwhelmingly African American neighborhood) have rates over 6%
- The article quotes Robert Knorr, the Director of Environmental Epidemiology at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Health as stating “Being poor and being a minority not only increases the risk of blood lead poisoning but makes it difficult to find a safe home”
- Massachusetts has the second oldest housing stock in the country. Children living in these homes are primarily low income and minorities.
This news article in the Boston Globe is hyper focused on Massachusetts; however, it further validates the impact of indoor environmental issues concentrated in marginalized communities.
In an article entitled Homes of low-income minority families with asthmatic children have increased condition issues published in the Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, the correlation between home maintenance issues in low income minority communities and the prevalence of asthma in children is explored. Below are some discussion points and findings from the article:
- Reviewing the occurrences of asthma in urban and rural communities shows that there is a socioeconomic difference that affects access to and quality of health care
- Housing that is subpar and indoor environmental exposures have been correlated with increased indoor allergen exposure and sensitization and greater asthma diseases and death for low-income, minority children living in urban areas
- This subpar housing usually has cracks that allow pests such as bugs and rodents to enter the home such as cockroaches, which can trigger asthma and allergies
- Poor ventilation allows for high concentrations of allergens, tobacco smoke, CO2, radon and VOCs
- In this study, homes of Latino children had the highest number of maintenance concerns followed by homes of black children and then homes of non-Latino white children
- The study concluded that asthmatic children from low income black and Latino families had more areas of home and safety and maintenance concerns than non-Latino whites recruited from the same region
- This article purports that improving living conditions in cities offers great promise for reducing health disparities and improving the quality of life and well being of children
This article focuses specifically on asthma but does point out that both children and adults who live in substandard housing face a host of health issues but lack adequate access to health care. Children living in inadequate housing are particularly vulnerable to asthma because of the identified maintenance concerns. The study focused on a small concentration of homes so it would be great to see this broadened across the United States.
Unfortunately, low income and minority communities face health risks linked to outdoor environmental justice issues but this is compounded by the fact that they often live in substandard housing which puts them at risk inside their home. Advocacy to eradicate environmental inequities must go beyond fighting industrial sources of pollution to advocating for adequate housing that is properly maintained for all.
Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.
Adamkiewicz, G., Zota, A. R., Fabian, M. P., Chahine, T., Julien, R., Spengler, J. D., & Levy, J. I. (2011). Moving Environmental Justice Indoors: Understanding Structural Influences on Residential Exposure Patterns in Low-Income Communities. American Journal of Public Health, 101(Suppl 1), S238–S245. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2011.300119
Pacheco, C. M., Ciaccio, C. E., Nazir, N., Daley, C. M., DiDonna, A., Choi, W. S., … Rosenwasser, L. J. (2014). Homes of low-income minority families with asthmatic children have increased condition issues. Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, 35(6), 467–474. http://doi.org/10.2500/aap.2014.35.3792
Rocheleau, Matt. “Low-income, Minority Areas Seen as Lead Poisoning Hot Spots.” The Boston Globe. N.p., 11 Apr. 2016. Web. 23 May 2017.