Tracking Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Exposure to Harmful Pesticides

A new study by the Center for Biological Diversity, that includes authors from historically Black Texas Southern University and Spelman College, examines racial and ethnic differences in exposure to pesticides.

The vast majority of all pesticide use is in agriculture, where more than three quarters of the workforce is Hispanic. These workers have high exposure to these chemicals and there are few regulations protecting them from harm.

But exposure to deadly pesticides is also high in inner-city areas with large Black populations. The authors note that “pesticide use is often heavy in inner-city housing due to the age of the structures, inadequate maintenance and often crowded living conditions. Residential pesticide use tends to increase with higher housing density and pesticides were found to be widely used in low-income public housing in New York state – where 80 percent of facilities applied pesticides inside apartments and in common areas on a regular basis.”

The authors also note that “85 percent of pregnant African American and Dominican women in New York City reported using pesticides in their residence and 83 percent had at least one pesticide in umbilical cord samples at birth.”

The researchers found that higher exposure to pesticides has potentially serious health effects. Twelve out of 14 markers for harmful pesticides, tracked over the past 20 years, were found in the blood and urine of Black and Mexican Americans at levels up to five times higher than those found in White Americans.

The full study, “Pesticides and Environmental Injustice in the USA: Root Causes, Current Regulatory Reinforcement and a Path Forward,” was published on the website of the BMC Public Health. It may be accessed here.

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