Exposed: Low Income Families and Families of Color at Disportionate Risk of Toxic Exposure

A recent report published by Environmental Health Perspectives highlights a clear disparity in children’s exposure to toxins.These exposures have serious implications for brain development and overall health of children.

Public News Service reports  that children of color and from low-income families in Ohio and across the nation are not only exposed to more dangerous toxic chemicals including lead, tailpipe and other air pollution, plastics and pesticides; they also experience disproportionate harm to brain development compared to their white and higher income peers. 

They quote Devon Payne-Sturges, associate professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland and the report’s co-author who said five decades of data show poverty exacerbates the effect of pollution.

Decades of Discrimination

“Studies have found that the combined experience, say, of exposure to lead in the environment — and being from an impoverished community, or a low-income family — actually worsened the negative cognitive impacts,” 

Payne-Sturges emphasized that it is important to look at how pollutants end up where children live. She pointed out communities of color are not simply making bad decisions about where to raise families. Unhealthy environments are a result of decisions made by industry leaders and government policies.

She pointed to, “A long history related to discriminatory practices…that forced people only to live in certain places, that often happened to be places where polluting industries would site.” 

Government Action Needed to Undo Years of Damage

Because of this history, she advocated for government intervention to address the disparities and recommends, “concomitant strategies to eradicate both neurotoxic chemical exposures and systems that perpetuate social inequities.”

This includes:

  1. a) the need for better reporting on and the interpretation of effect modification and interaction
  2. b) the importance of exposure disparities
  3. c) the need for improving the use of race and other variables to denote social group difference in environmental epidemiology studies


  1. d) the need for more research examining impacts of neurotoxicant exposures into later childhood and adolescence.

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