Anyone can get cancer. Or asthma. As a PSA might put it, diseases don’t see race, place, or age. You know who does, though? Community planners and industrial developers, and that’s led to disproportionate rates of cancer in communities of color. Known as environmental racism, the tendency of harmful industries to cluster in communities of color and pollute those environments is a known hazard. And as a result, these communities are more likely to suffer disproportionately from these 5 diseases and health issues.
Air Quality And Asthma
One of the most common health issues disproportionately found in communities of color is a seemingly mundane one: asthma. Lots of people have asthma, right? It’s true, but people who live in historically redlined communities – those designated for African-American residents and considered a high credit risk by lenders – are more than twice as likely to visit the ER for asthma than their counterparts in historically white neighborhoods. That’s because these individuals are more likely to breathe polluted air, triggering airway inflammation and asthma attacks.
Lung Cancer Concerns
If polluted air in communities of color leads to an increased likelihood of asthma, it should come as no surprise that these populations are also at an increased risk of lung cancer. While 80% of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarette smoking, the other 20% of lung cancer cases are caused by combined risk factors including air pollution and exposure to asbestos and industrial chemicals – precisely the types of chemicals that the polluting businesses in these neighborhoods release. Low income adults are also far more likely to work in high-risk industries, compounding their risk.
What’s In The Water?
Air pollution may cause asthma and lung cancer, but pollution in low-income, racially segregated neighborhoods aren’t just isolated in the air. Water pollution also represents a huge risk for these populations. From industrial runoff to pesticides and naturally occurring toxins that leach from the aquifers, water pollution also increases cancer risk, as well as increasing the risk of skin irritations like eczema and contact dermatitis, and some water sources may expose consumers to arsenic and lead poisoning.
Lasting Lead Damage
Lead paint products were banned in the 1970s, but in many impoverished urban areas, lead poisoning continues to be a major issue. Stemming from old, low-quality pipes or chipping paint, lead poisoning can cause intellectual disabilities as well as behavioral problems. Researchers have found that lead exposure may be responsible for a reduction by as much as half of the number of gifted children in these areas while also multiplying the number of students classified as intellectually disabled. Unlike many other health issues, though, lead poisoning may not be recognized for decades, as professionals assume delays and disabilities are innate, not caused by environmental racism.
Finally, and perhaps most worrisome, communities that are victims of environmental racism are more likely to suffer from certain infectious diseases, particularly neglected diseases that are typically only seen in developing countries. These include parasitic infections like trichomoniasis that can cause birth complications, cysticercosis, which is the leading cause of epilepsy in the Latino population. These diseases aren’t thought of as things people suffer from in the United States, yet both urban and rural poverty seem to lead to increased risk.
Where you live shouldn’t determine whether or not you have a chance at a healthy life, but right now it’s one of the most important factors. Disease follows poverty and segregation and compounds it – we need solutions now.
Photo is Wikimedia Public Domain
Guest Author Bio
Jamie is a freelance writer who covers trends in business, technology, and health. She loves to go skiing, camping, and rock climbing with her family.