Millions of Americans are exposed to toxic waste by living close to Superfund sites. There are more than 1,300 Superfund sites in the U.S., and a new study published in the journal Nature Communications has identified that these sites pose serious health impacts to citizens. The health risks include the potential to shorten life expectancy by one year.
The study was led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston. The researchers found that people living in zip codes near Superfund sites had a drop in life expectancy by at least two months. The researchers said that life expectancy could decrease by up to one year in low-income areas.
“We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities,” Rifai said. “Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites.”
The researchers used data from 65,000 census tracts. The data helped define discrepancies in life expectancies based on factors such as income and proximity to toxic waste sites, which are often built near low-income communities.
“It was a bit surprising and concerning,” Rifai said to members of the press. “We weren’t sure if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund’s effects] worse.”
Many toxic waste sites today were once used as manufacturing sites during World War II. Some of the contaminants found at such sites include lead, benzene, arsenic, trichloroethylene and chromium. Even as the scientific community expresses concern over the slow rate of cleaning up these locations, the EPA claims that there has been great progress.
The researchers looked at the overall impact of the sites on the nearby communities in terms of health and life expectancy. They also studied how such sites affect the water quality, especially during floods. Rifai said that adding flooding to the problem can have long-lasting negative impacts to those living close to the sites.
“When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate,” Rifai told the University of Houston. “The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations.”
Image via Anthony Albright