Latinos and Asians in Southern California are disproportionately exposed to toxic waste sites, according to a new UC Irvine study.

Researchers measured residential proximity to plants manufacturing cleaning solvents, paint and petroleum products – and emitting toxic chemicals – in six heavily populated, ethnically diverse Southern California counties between 1990 and 2000.

They found that neighborhoods with a higher percentage of Latinos or Asians were more likely to be near toxic waste sites than those populated by more whites or African-Americans.

“Education and awareness may factor in here, since immigrants may not know of the risks involved in living near toxic waste sites or may come from places where pollution from such sites is a lot worse,” said the study’s lead author, John Hipp, UCI associate professor of criminology, law & society, as well as sociology and planning, policy & design.

Past research has shown that minority communities are disproportionately exposed to hazardous substances like lead, PCBs, wood dust and air pollutants, putting residents at risk for numerous diseases and disabilities.

The UCI team looked at 3,000 Southern California census tracts – defined as areas inhabited by about 4,000 people – and determined that those with 15 percent more Latinos than an average tract were exposed to 84.3 percent more toxic waste. Tracts with 15 percent more Asians were exposed to 33.7 percent more toxic waste.

According to Hipp, the findings demonstrate the need for educational outreach to minority neighborhoods, warning residents of the health risks associated with living near toxic waste sites.

Efforts at the community level may be the impetus for larger-scale policy changes that reduce exposure to toxic waste among vulnerable populations,” he said.

Results appear online in the July issue of Health & Place. Cynthia Lakon, assistant professor of public health, contributed to the study, supported by the Metropolitan Futures Initiative in UCI’s School of Social Ecology.

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