Poor Face Multitude of Environmental Health Threats

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 20 Oct 2002
Time: 18:31:48
Remote Name:


Date: 10/17/02

From: http://www.abcnews.go.com/
By Charnicia E. Huggins, Reuters Health, Oct. 17, 2002

New York - Poor people in the United States have long been believed to suffer from more noise and air pollution, crowding and other unhealthy environmental factors than their wealthier counterparts. Now, study findings suggest that that exposure to such environmental hazards and the associated health risks may be higher than previously thought. "There is widespread evidence that the poor in the US, UK, and perhaps other countries as well, face a disproportionate burden of environmental risks," study author Dr. Gary W. Evans of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, told Reuters Health. He and his co-author, Elyse Kantrowitz, investigated environmental health risks and socioeconomic status in a review of more than 140 studies.

Low-income individuals were more likely to be exposed to air pollution from smog and other sources, and this exposure was linked to asthma, emphysema and other respiratory problems, the Cornell researchers report in the current issue of the journal Annual Review of Public Health. Poor people also faced higher levels of ambient noise, they report. In fact, one survey revealed that people who lived in households with annual earnings below $10,000 were exposed to sound levels twice as high as levels experienced by those with yearly incomes above $20,000.

The effect of noise exposure on health is not well established, but some researchers have suggested it may be associated with heart disease and high blood pressure. Another environmental hazard more commonly found among lower-income families, Evans and Kantrowitz report, was overcrowding, defined by the US Census as more than one person per room in a dwelling. Crowding has been linked to high blood pressure, and may also increase a person's risk of psychological distress and cause some individuals to be more socially withdrawn, the authors note.

Finally, the researchers also found an association between housing and neighborhood quality and income levels. One study found poorer families were three times more likely to have substandard housing, such as a leaky roof or lack of central heating, and another study found that low-income, urban neighborhoods have poorer sanitation and other services. According to the authors, the jury is still out on whether substandard housing, inadequate heating and other aspects of poor housing quality may lead to more unintentional injuries among young and elderly residents and poor respiratory health, as previous evidence suggests. Residence in a low-income neighborhood, however, is known to be associated with acting out, aggression and other mental health problems among youth.

Altogether, the findings show that "the poor are most likely to be exposed not only to the worst air quality, the most noise, the worst water, and to hazardous wastes and other toxins, but also of particular consequence, to lower-quality environments on a daily basis at home, in school, on the job, and in the neighborhood," Evans said in a statement. "Given that many of these risks converge upon the poor, scientific and medical analyzes of the impacts of singular environmental risk factors may potentially grossly underestimate the true health risks faced by the poor," Evans told Reuters Health. - - - Source: Annual Review of Public Health 2002;23:303-331. * * * Copyright 2002 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. Copyright (c) 2002 ABCNEWS Internet Ventures

Last changed: March 14, 2006