Main Topics

I. Home

II. Environmental Threats in Ohio

III. Health Impacts

IV. The Regulatory Agencies

V. Prioritization of Environmental Risks

VI. The Disconnect

VII. Ensuring Participation

VIII. Resolving Environmental Disputes

IX. Conclusion

X. Citizens' Guide to Environmental Protection

XI. About the Green Environmental Coalition

A Handbook for Professionals Serving Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Communities:
Health Professionals
Social Service Professionals

Produced by the Green
Environmental Coalition
in Association with The Ohio Environmental Education Fund

Health Impacts of Environmental Pollution

After exploring the state of Ohio's environment and its environmental threats, we will examine the health effects of environmental assaults and the populations most at-risk for adverse effects.

Populations most affected by Environmental Pollution.

Although environmental regulation in the United States has improved, millions of people continue to live in areas that violate the health standards put forth by the regulatory agencies.

  • These areas are largely urban centers, in which many socioeconomically disadvantaged populations live and work.
  • 86.1% of African Americans and 91.2% of Hispanics live in urban settings as compared to 70.3% of whites
  • Urban centers contain growing numbers of automobiles, trucks, and buses, mobile sources of air pollutants.
  • Many of these minority and low-income communities contain environmental hazards that represent potential sources of health risks.

    • Chemical waste disposal sites
    • Fossil-fueled power plants
    • Municipal incinerators
    • Solid waste landfills
  • Exposed to a disproportionately high share of environmental pollution, these communities face higher rates of adverse health outcomes. 
  • Certain populations prove more vulnerable to the effects of pollution

    • Minorities. Workers from disadvantaged communities are at a higher health risk from occupational exposure to environmental contaminants.

      • Minority populations tend to work in largely urban centers.
      • Migrant farm works are exposed to high levels of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.
      • Medical care is often inadequate or unavailable to a significant portion of socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.
    • Women. Specific concerns for women are related to women's reproductive issues. Exposures to occupational chemicals causes adverse reproductive outcomes such as

      • Reduced fertility
      • Spontaneous abortion
      • Low birth weight
      • Birth defects
      • Developmental abilities
    • Children . Children are at special risk. They are more vulnerable to airborne pollution for many reasons.

      • Their airways are narrower than adults'.
      • They have markedly increased needs for oxygen relative to their size.
      • The breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight.
      • They spend more time engaged in vigorous outdoor activities than adults.
      • Children are uniquely susceptible to environmental hazards because

        • They have a higher metabolic rate than adults, which affects the absorption and metabolism of toxicants.
        • They have a different breathing zone than adults, closer to the floor, where dust, dirt and toxic heavy metals such as lead are deposited.
        • The normal hand-to-mouth activity of toddlers increases the likelihood of exposure through ingestion of toxic substances.
        • Pesticides an herbicides applied to lawns used as play areas may present a risk.
    • Seniors . Seniors are at particular risk from airborne pollutants because of advancing age.

      • There is a progressive decrease in the functions of several organs and body systems, including the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, and immune system.
      • The elderly have had a longer period of time to experience the cumulative effects of some environmental pollutants.
      • The body's barriers to the entrance of harmful substances change with advancing age.
      • Changes in the skin may permit increased absorption and decreased clearance of foreign substances in the lung.
      • Declines in blood flow to both liver and kidney, in part due to steady annual decline in cardiac output after age 30, may result in a decreased ability to detoxify and eliminate toxic substances.
      • Lead as a pollutant can accumulate in the bone over the lifetime of a individual ( The accelerated bone turnover accompanying aging and menopause may release stored lead which would exert toxic effects on other organ systems).
Adverse Health Effects of Air Pollution. This section will focus mainly on the adverse effects of air pollution on human health, since the preponderance of the research data focuses on this area.
  • Common pollutants and their health effects:

    View cached Adobe PDF of the web site at the time of publication: US EPA Common Air Pollutants

  • Assessing the risks associated with air pollution
    USEPA's Risk Assessment for Toxic Air Pollutants: A Citizen's Guide:

    View cached Adobe PDF of the web site at the time of publication: US EPA Risk Assessments for Toxic Air Pollutants

  • When most people think of air pollution, they think only of impacts on the lungs. Yet, according to the National Association of Physicians for the Environment, air pollution can affect many organs and systems of the human body:

    • Respiratory system
    • Heart
    • Blood
    • Central nervous system
    • Immune system
    • Muscular system
    • Skeletal systems

  • Slide show: Air Pollution Impacts on the Body's Organs and Systems prepared by the National Association of Physicians for the Environment (NAPE):

    View cached Adobe PDF of the web site at the time of publication: National Association of Physicians for the Environment

    • Other Factors Related to Health Risks

      Health conditions identified in a community of concern may have several possible causes. It is difficult to differentiate between the multiple determinants underlying a given disease.

      • Education

        Individuals with less than 12 years of education are twice as likely to die from chronic disease, in contrast with comparable individual with more than 12 years of education

      • Diet

        Individuals with low incomes lack the financial resources to purchase sufficient and nutritional foods.
      • Lifestyle choices

        Lifestlye choices are perceived by many as the obvious determinant in many chronic disease impacting these communities of concern.

        Smoking and the consumption of foods like bacon, eggs, fatty red meat, alcohol and sweets are often blamed.

Institute of Medicine. (1999)
"Toward Environmental Justice: Research, Education, and Health Policy Needs"

National Association of Physicians for the Environment.
"Air Pollution Impacts on Body Organs and Systems."

United States Environmental Protection Agency.
"Common Pollutants and Their Health Effects"
"Cumulative Exposure Project"
"Risk Assessment for Toxic Air Pollutants: A Citizen Guide"

2000 Green Environmental Coalition. All rights reserved worldwide.
Cached documents copyright by their respective authors.

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