May 19, 2014

Low-income groups and persons without a high school education are more likely to be both overburdened by environmental hazards and underserved by medical professionals, according to a new study led by Dr. Sacoby Wilson from the School of Public Health. Using geographic information systems and census data, researchers explored this "double disparity" for the first time in the state of Maryland. The study is published in the open-access journal Environmental Health.

Dr. Wilson, an assistant professor in the Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH), notes that the study found that areas that host Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) facilities have higher proportions of non-white residents and people living in poverty. "These results mirror those of previous research that has demonstrated environmental injustice based on race and class," says Dr. Wilson. "In communities where there are TRI facilities as well as a shortage of health professionals serving the area, the proportions of people of color and people living in poverty are even greater."

The authors suggest that state agencies, such as the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, may be able to use the study results to prioritize efforts in vulnerable communities facing the double disparity of disproportionate environmental hazards and limited access to health care resources. Investments of resources from the Affordable Care Act could help reduce the burden of disease related to exposure to toxins in these areas.

Further research that includes data on toxic emissions and health outcomes in zones near TRI facilities is also needed. The researchers are planning a more comprehensive analysis to determine whether there is a disparity in cancer risk in communities hosting TRI facilities.

Read the paper "Being overburdened and medically underserved: assessment of this double disparity for populations in the state of Maryland" at http://www.ehjournal.net/content/13/1/26

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Sacoby Wilson