Environmentally Mediated Health Disparities

Published:February 22, 2023DOI:


      We describe important settings where environmental exposure leads to disease disparities. Lead exposure in urban settings disproportionately impacts the urban Black poor. Native Americans have been forcibly relocated to areas of the West that have arsenic-contaminated groundwater or exposure to radionuclides near mines and nuclear development. Latino farm workers are disproportionately exposed to pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals are associated with cancer, neuropsychiatric disorders, renal failure, and respiratory disorders. The rural poor, both white and of color, are disproportionately impacted by hydraulic fracturing, exposing residents to volatile organic compounds such as toluene and benzene and heavy metals such as lead and arsenic. The urban and rural poor are both exposed to air pollution that significantly impact health. Short- and long-term ambient air pollution exposure has been associated with all-cause cardiovascular disease, stroke, blood pressure, and ischemic heart disease. Cancer due to air pollution has disproportionately impacted poor communities like “Cancer Alley” where numerous industrial sources are geographically clustered. Understanding local environmental hazards and available resources to address them can enhance the quality of medical care.


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