Chemical Exposures, Health, and Environmental Justice in Communities Living on the Fenceline of Industry

Abstract

Purpose of Review

Polluting industries are more likely to be located in low-income communities of color who also experience greater social stressors that may make them more vulnerable than others to the health impacts of toxic chemical exposures. We describe recent developments in assessing pollutant exposures and health threats posed by industrial facilities using or releasing synthetic chemicals to nearby communities in the U.S.

Recent Findings

More people are living near oil and gas development due to the expansion of unconventional extraction techniques as well as near industrial animal operations, both with suggestive evidence of increased exposure to hazardous pollutants and adverse health effects. Legacy contamination continues to adversely impact a new generation of residents in fenceline communities, with recent studies documenting exposures to toxic metals and poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). Researchers are also giving consideration to acute exposures resulting from inadvertent industrial chemical releases, including those resulting from extreme weather events linked to climate change. Natural experiments of industrial closures or cleanups provide compelling evidence that exposures from industry harm the health of nearby residents.

Summary

New and legacy industries, coupled with climate change, present unique health risks to communities living near industry due to the release of toxic chemicals. Cumulative impacts from multiple stressors faced by environmental justice communities may amplify these adverse effects.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Khang Chau at the University of Southern California for assistance in creating Figure 1.

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Correspondence to Jill Johnston.

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Dr. Johnston was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (no. 5P30ES007048). Dr. Cushing reports that this work was partially funded by the JPB Foundation Environmental Health Fellowship.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Synthetic Chemicals and Health

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Johnston, J., Cushing, L. Chemical Exposures, Health, and Environmental Justice in Communities Living on the Fenceline of Industry. Curr Envir Health Rpt 7, 48–57 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40572-020-00263-8

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Keywords

  • Environmental justice
  • Climate justice
  • Oil and gas development
  • Industrial pollution
  • Natural technological disasters