Japanese American men (64.1 per 100,000 population) than white men (57.6 per 100,000). Racial and ethnic minorities also experience higher rates of mortality from cancer than whites (Parker et al., 1998).

Disparities in Exposure to Environmental Hazards

Many communities contain environmental hazards that represent potential sources of health risks (for examples, see Table 2-1). Although these can affect all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, there is evidence that minorities and lower-income groups face higher levels of exposure to these hazards and, therefore, potentially higher rates of adverse health outcomes. It has been shown, for example, that non-whites are disproportionately exposed to ambient air pollutants associated with respiratory symptoms and exacerbation of other ailments (see Table 2-2).

One method of determining the potential for increased exposure is to examine the proximity of communities of concern to waste or industrial facilities. Another, more accurate way is to characterize the nature and level of exposures by either direct measurement or estimation. Both of these methods are described below.

Examining Proximity to Environmental Health Hazards

Numerous studies have shown that race is associated with increased levels of exposure to environmental hazards. The Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ published a report in 1987 entitled Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States (United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, 1987) and updated it in 1994 (Goldman and Fitton, 1994). The major finding of these studies was that communities that had one or more commercial hazardous-waste facilities had significantly higher proportions of racial minority

Table 2-1 Examples of Potential Sources of Environmental Health Hazards



Agricultural runoff



Heavy metals

Industrial facilities

Paints and oil wastes


Particulate matter

Toxic-waste sites

Pesticides and herbicides

Waste treatment facilities

Radioactive wastes




Volatile organic compounds

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement