adapted from markzvo / Wikimedia
Throughout the United States, many people are living and working in close proximity to — areas contaminated with leaked, dumped, or poorly managed hazardous waste. Superfund sites are often laden with, and the cleanup process for these contaminants can.
Recently, a team researchers from the University of Houston and the University of Texas investigated how living near a Superfund site relates to life expectancy. In, which was published in Nature Communications, the researchers compared the life expectancies of people living in census tracts with a Superfund site to those living in neighboring tracts. () In addition to the more than in the US, this study also included an additional 11,700 contaminated sites that are not currently on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List.
They found that people living close to hazardous waste sites tend to have shorter life expectancies than those living further away. And life expectancies decreased even more for people near contaminated sites that were not being actively cleaned up, as well as for those living in flood-prone areas.
But these effects were not distributed equally for all people. The study found a clear negative relationship between contaminated sites and life expectancy in low-income census tracts, but not in higher-income areas. Wealthier residents may be able to avoid the risks of living near hazardous waste by paying for expensive health care and well-protected houses. Similarly, areas where most residents had health insurance showed little relationship between contamination and life expectancy.
While living near hazardous waste is likely to be dangerous for anyone, these risks seem to be magnified for the most socioeconomically disadvantaged residents. And to make matters worse, hazardous waste sites have disproportionately been. Hopefully the ongoing and future cleanup of these sites will lessen these disparities.