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Cancer risk from air toxics in relation to neighborhood isolation and sociodemographic characteristics: A spatial analysis of the St. Louis metropolitan area, USA

Ekenga, Christine C., Yeung, Cheuk Yui, Oka, Masayoshi
Environmental research 2019 v.179 pp. 108844
African Americans, air, carcinogenicity, educational status, geographic information systems, metropolitan areas, neoplasms, poverty, risk, sociodemographic characteristics, surveys, unemployment, Missouri
A growing body of research has examined relationships between neighborhood characteristics and exposure to air toxics in the United States. However, a limited number of studies have addressed neighborhood isolation, a measure of spatial segregation. We investigated the spatial distribution of carcinogenic air toxics in the St. Louis metropolitan area and tested the hypothesis that neighborhood isolation and sociodemographic characteristics are associated with exposure to carcinogenic air toxics.We obtained lifetime air toxics cancer risk data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency's National Air Toxic Assessment and sociodemographic data from the American Community Survey. We used geographic information systems to identify statistically significant clusters of census tracts with elevated all-site cancer risk due to air toxics in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Relative Risks (RR) were estimated for the association between neighborhood characteristics and air toxic hot spots. Using a local spatial isolation index to evaluate residential segregation, we also evaluated the association between neighborhood racial and economic isolation and air toxic hot spots.Approximately 14% (85 of the 615) of census tracts had elevated cancer risk due to air toxics (p < 0.01). These air toxic hot spots were independently associated with neighborhoods with high levels of poverty and unemployment and low levels of education. Census tracts with the highest levels of both racial isolation of Blacks and economic isolation of poverty were more likely to be located in air toxic hotspots than those with low combined racial and economic isolation (RR = 5.34; 95% CI = 3.10–9.22).These findings provide strong evidence of unequal distribution of carcinogenic air toxics in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Study results may be used to inform public health efforts to eliminate sociodemographic inequalities in exposure to air pollutants.