Among those most affected by a thinning ozone layer, rising temperatures and increased air pollution are older adults. Recent research finds that even air pollution within legal limits could mean an early death for older residents. Continue reading
InvestigateWest’s Carol Smith writes in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and InvestigateWest.org that the focus on the environmental disaster of Seattle’s industrial Duwamish River obscures another, equally potent, long-simmering health crisis. For the folks who live near the Superfund site, pollutants from the river are just one of many health risks. Access to groceries and health care is limited, and obesity and poverty rates are higher than surrounding neighborhoods while expected lifespans are years shorter. As Superfund recommendations begin to take shape, the health side of the cleanup is bubbling to the forefront.
While there’s been exhaustive analysis of the environmental impact of historical polluters on the river and the health of creatures that live in it, as well as theoretical risk assessments of individual pollutants on human health, relatively little attention has been paid to the actual health status of residents living within the 32-square-mile Superfund site. Nor has there been consideration of the cumulative impact of the many health hazards they face.
The big question, Smith writes, is “Should the area be held to a higher cleanup threshold because the people living in its midst are already more vulnerable to the health risks posed by the toxic chemicals in their environment? ”
The answer might lie in the area’s status as an “environmental justice neighborhood,” which means it is “subject to the 1994 executive order by President Clinton that directed federal agencies to address inequities in communities where low-income or minority communities were experiencing health disparities caused by their environment.”
Transportation policies and public health are inextricably linked, according to a new report released by the American Public Health Association.
Photo by Nrbelex via Flickr
“The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation” (PDF) attempts to put a dollar amount on the cost of transportation-related health outcomes and explores how such policies affect public health.
Our dependence on automobiles and roadways has profound negative impacts on human health: decreased opportunities for physical activity, and increased exposure to air pollution, and the number of traffic crashes. The health costs associated with these impacts, including costs associated with loss of work days and wages, pain and suffering, and premature death, may be as high as several hundred billion dollars.
The report lists other things that are impacted by transportation policy, such as noise, water quality, mental health and/or stress, equity and social capital or social cohesion.
The report cites a 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office that recommended the United States refocus its transportation planning to incorporate cost-benefit analyses and the APHA says those analyses should take health costs into account.
Perhaps somewhat predictably, the report says “Investment should shift toward transit, pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure in order to facilitate healthy, equitable and environmentally sound mobility.”
A new Gallup poll shows that half of Americans are worried about the pollution of drinking water. Other health-related worries include toxic waste in soil and water (44 percent) and air pollution (38 percent).
The poll shows Americans’ concern about environmental problems has mainly decreased but the pollution of drinking water has topped the list of concerns since 1990.
Get information about ground water and drinking water from the Environmental Protection Agency.
These two stories about how reporters investigated contaminated water and the related resources also might be helpful to reporters looking into similar issues:
- Reporter finds efforts to monitor groundwater contamination leave much to be desired
- Paper’s investigation reveals contaminated drinking water
(Hat tip to Al Tompkins)
California Watch’s Ali Winston writes that to increase awareness of both legacy and ongoing sources of toxins in their venerable neighborhood, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project is offering “toxic tours” of the area’s most polluted locations.
The tour focuses on the neighborhood’s industrial legacy and includes West Oakland’s own federal Superfund site, where a chemical company “left a deposit of cancer-causing vinyl chloride in the soil and groundwater” as well as the largest recycling smelter west of the Mississippi and the docks where lines of cargo ships and big rigs sit idling every weekday as they wait for containers to be loaded and unloaded.
In their series “Shortened Lives,” Suzanne Bohan and Sandy Kleffman profiled people from different (though nearby) ZIP codes, finding wide disparities in their expected life spans, based on where they live, their social status and the toll of chronic stress. The series explains the effect these disparities have on health care costs, as well as how they are caused and how they might be addressed. Bohan and Kleffman wrote about the project in a piece for AHCJ members and we have included additional resources for those interested in exploring disparities in health care in their own communities.