Skip to main content.

How does the environment affect the health of urban poor?

How does the environment affect the health of urban poor?

Picture of Erica Peterson

I believe health is the key to making people care about environmental issues.

Across the country, power plants spew mercury into the air, but it’s hard to make the case for stricter pollution limits without referencing the devastating effects heavy metals have on human health. In Appalachia, coal mining advocates dismiss stories about ecosystems killed by mountaintop removal but studies about links to human birth defects give them pause. And here in Louisville, many aren’t sure what long-term effects will result from the air they breathe, which on some summer days is bad enough to prompt the city’s government to warn vulnerable people to stay indoors.

These air pollution issues are concerns for everyone in Louisville, but nowhere in town is the intersection of health and pollution more obvious than in the residential neighborhoods on the city’s west side. The aptly-named “Rubbertown” is home to 11 major chemical companies, including Zeon Chemical, DuPont, Dow Chemical and American Synthetic Rubber Corporation.

Rubbertown is a large source of blue-collar jobs in Louisville. The companies there are also the largest source of industrial air emissions in Louisville, and its industries release more than 3 million pounds of air toxics annually. This affects the air quality citywide, but for the residential neighborhoods clustered within a mile of the industrial areas the effects are much more salient.

For these residents, strange odors are a common occurrence. The strong smells sometimes make their eyes water and cause dizziness. Often, the residents aren’t sure what chemicals they’re breathing, and whether there are long-term health effects associated with the odors. No comprehensive health surveys have been done, but anecdotally, there are high rates of tumors and leukemia in the neighborhoods near Rubbertown.

This is still going on, but the residents admit the air is much better than it used to be. Over the past decade, Louisville has implemented a Strategic Toxic Air Reduction program. This has greatly improved the air quality, but the emissions are still of concern to local residents and public health experts. Butadiene, a compound that’s been found to cause cancer in lab rats, has been reduced by 80 percent over the past 10 years. Even so, the emissions are still at 18 times the “safe” level.

As a National Health Fellow, I’ll speak with the people affected by Rubbertown’s constant pollution and explore the health issues with links to air pollution.

Leave A Comment

Announcements

This month marks the sober anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd, which ignited global protests and renewed efforts to reform or dismantle policing. In our next webinar, we’ll examine the price society pays for a criminal-legal system that disproportionately arrests, punishes and kills Black people. And we’ll look at how reporters can best cover this evolving story in original and powerful ways. Sign-up here!

As public health officials like to say, "COVID-19 isn't done with us." And journalists know that we're not done with COVID-19. Apply now for five days of stimulating discussions on the pandemic's disproportionate impact on people of color -- plus reporting and engagement grants of $2k-$10k and five months of mentoring while you work on an ambitious project.

Are you passionate about helping journalists understand and illuminate the social factors that contribute to health and health disparities at a time when COVID-19 has highlighted the costs of such inequities? Looking to play a big role in shaping journalism today in the United States? The USC Center for Health Journalism seeks an enterprising and experienced journalism leader for our new position of “Manager of Projects.” 

 

CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY

Follow Us

Facebook


Twitter

CHJ Icon
ReportingHealth