Environmental justice and health disparities in the state of Maryland
Although Maryland has the 3rd highest median household income and the 2nd highest number of primary care physicians per capita in the country, it also ranks 43rd in infant mortality, 28th in obesity prevalence, 31st in diabetes prevalence, 35th in cardiovascular deaths, 32nd in cancer deaths, and 33rd for geographic health disparities. These statistics point to the possibility of significant health disparities within the state which may be due to environmental factors. The Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health (CEEJH) Laboratory is currently performing statistical analyses and spatial analysis using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to assess spatial distribution of locally unwanted land uses including coal-fired plants, incinerators, Superfund sites, brownfields, leaking underground storage tanks (LUSTs) and other pollution-intensive facilities at the county and census tract level in the state of Maryland to obtain evidence of environmental injustice. The mission of CEEJH is to educate impacted communities about environmental justice and health issues. Through technical assistance and collaboration, communities are empowered to address environmental injustice and environmental health disparities. Our goal is to provide engagement to highly and differentially exposed populations and underserved communities. Additionally, the CEEJH team is exploring using environmental epidemiologic techniques whether or not certain populations are impacted by a “double disparity” being both overburdened by environmental hazards and underserved by access to medical care resources which makes them less resilient to acute and chronic exposures to exposure to environmental contamination and stressors associated with the social environment.
Using GIS and regression methods, we found that areas with more persons of color and low-income individuals had a higher concentration of Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) facilities, brownfields, and leaking underground storage tanks (LUSTs) In addition, in areas that both hosted a locally unwanted land use and were designated as a medically underserved region, the mean number of poor individuals, persons of color, and individuals with less than high school education were higher than in areas that did not host a locally unwanted land use and did have health care resources. This research has major implications for developing interventions for overburdened and underserved communities in the region, ensuring that these communities have protections from the cumulative impacts of environmental hazards and poor access to ecologic amenities, and the implementation of equitable development principles that help to make these communities healthier, more sustainable, and resilient to chronic and acute environmental stressors and phenomena.