The Impact of Low–Income Neighborhoods on Health

Posted on November 28, 2017 by Emily Walsh, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

For those living in lower income neighborhoods, the costs of poverty are high. Food deserts, fewer educational opportunities and higher crime are only a few of the struggles often confronted by residents in low-income neighborhoods. In some cases, even the house they come home to each day may not be safe.

One of the many problems facing low-income earners and minority neighborhoods today is an unequal exposure to dangerous chemicals and substances . For example, those living in poorer neighborhoods are exposed to contaminants at a higher rate than those in more affluent neighborhoods. Among them is asbestos, a mineral once used in thousands of products and materials, but has since seen a steep decline in usage following federal regulation. However, prior applications of asbestos in building materials may still be present in older homes (those built before the mid-1970s), and removal is often expensive.

According to HomeAdvisor, the national average cost for asbestos removal in a home is close to $1,800, leaving families in those residences with a difficult choice between their long-term health and financial burden. Landlords face similar decisions for their properties. The result is a continued deterioration of those asbestos-containing materials, leading to accidental exposure.

The reason asbestos is so dangerous is because there is no accepted level of exposure and symptoms can lie dormant for 10-50 years. In that time, residents and employees could be exposed to the mineral time and time again without being able to pinpoint when and where that exposure occurred. Years later, when the fibers become embedded in the lining of the lungs, it can result in several diseases with low survival rates, including advanced stages of mesothelioma and asbestosis .

In some cases, the threat of asbestos isn’t simply relegated to the home or workplace, but can extend throughout neighborhoods. A 2015 Urban Institute study cited that low-income neighborhoods are often in locations with a greater chance of industrial or hazardous land uses. For example, in a section of East Cleveland, residents are facing piles of discarded materials from a recycling plant that includes asbestos, along with other toxic chemicals like hydrogen sulfide, an incredibly dangerous and flammable gas that is created when gypsum drywall gets wet from rain.

Cities with a blight of abandoned properties are dealing with dozens of sites where asbestos was not properly addressed , potentially putting workers and the general public at risk of exposure. If asbestos is still inside of a home during demolition, fibers can easily become airborne and inhaled as workers break down and dispose of materials.

Although anyone can be exposed to asbestos, those living in lower-income areas may be at a higher risk of accidental exposure. Older housing stock and limited financial means combine to present a difficult situation for residents. Given the long-term health risks associated with asbestos-related diseases, the threat of exposure is something that should be promptly considered by landlords, homeowners and city officials.

Backgrounder: The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance (MCA) is an online resource for those diagnosed with mesothelioma and their families, providing relevant information and connections to medical, research and legal resources. MCA strives to bring awareness to the dangers or asbestos and advocate for a full ban on the material in the U.S.