Does Proximity to a ‘Superfund’ Site Affect Your Lifespan?

Key Takeaways:

  • Proximity to Superfund hazardous waste sites can impact life expectancy, reducing it by approximately two months on average, and by nearly 15 months for low-income individuals.
  • Superfund sites, prominent across the U.S., include manufacturing entities, processing units, landfills, and mines that have improperly managed or openly dumped hazardous waste.
  • Residents near hazardous waste sites also struggle with lower incomes and often suffer poor health, showing high rates of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, especially among males.
  • Flooding plays a significant role in spreading contaminants from Superfund sites, potentially causing impacts over wider communities and spanning generations due to the long-term effects of recurrent flooding and exposure.
  • The study brings attention to the disparity in life expectancy for areas with at least one Superfund site compared to their neighboring areas without any sites.

The location of your residence could indeed have an impact on your life expectancy, particularly if you live near a Superfund hazardous waste site, according to recent studies.
Superfund sites are prominent across the U.S. and constitute of manufacturing entities, processing units, landfills, and mines that have improperly managed or openly dumped hazardous waste. This poses a significant threat to both the environment and human health.

Statistics Reveal a Shorter Lifespan for Residents Near Superfund Sites

Analysis of data from the 2018 U.S. Census reveals a worrisome trend: individuals residing near such hazardous waste sites could have a lifespan that is approximately two months shorter than the average.

However, for low-income individuals residing in proximity to these sites, the impact is even more drastic as their life expectancy could be shortened by nearly 15 months. These findings were initially published on April 13 in the Nature Communications journal.

It is worth noting that in the United States, the average life expectancy stands at 78.7 years.

Impacts of Contaminant Releases

According to Hanadi Rifai, the Principal study Author and a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Houston, there is substantial evidence that suggest contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources such as petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites, could elevate the mortality rate among fence-line communities.

Rifai emphasizes, “Our results indicate a noteworthy disparity in life expectancy for census tracts with at least one Superfund site as compared to their neighboring tracts without any sites.”

Lower Incomes and Health Problems — A Trend Among Residents of Hazardous Waste Sites

Several studies support the notion that individuals residing near hazardous waste sites fare lower incomes and suffer poorer health. Remarkably, millions of children have been nurtured within a 1-mile radius surrounding a Superfund site.

Focused studies have shown a significant relationship between living near Superfund sites and rates of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, especially among males.

Even in Texas, health officials recently scrutinized a cancer cluster in downtown Houston in the vicinity of a former railroad creosote treatment facility. The findings indicated an unexpectedly high number of acute lymphoblastic leukemia cases in children when compared to the state’s cancer rates.

Flooding – A Catalyst for Spreading Contaminants

In her study, Rifai delved into the role of flooding as a potential force in disseminating contaminants from Superfund sites, potentially affecting wider communities.

Expressing concern over the impact of climate change, Rifai stated, “Once you factor in flooding, there will be supplementary or secondary impacts which could potentially rise due to the future changes in climate. The long-term effect of the recurrent flooding and exposure could leave an impact that may span generations.”

Seek More Information

For more information and detailed insights on Superfund sites, you may visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website here.

SOURCE: University of Houston, press release, April 13, 2021.

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