Low-Income Children of Color Are More Vulnerable to Toxins

Children of color and those from low-income homes are more likely to be exposed to harmful substances and suffer from injury.

Living in a low-income community may hinder access to a healthier atmosphere. New research now suggests that low-income children of color are more susceptible to toxic chemical exposure.

According to a review of more than 200 studies published in Environmental Health Perspectives, children from low-income environments are exposed to more neurotoxic chemicals and suffer more significant harm that affects brain development and contributes to developmental delays.


Lead, particulate matter, organophosphate insecticides, PBDE flame retardants, PCBs, and phthalates are some of the neurotoxic chemicals that may be found in the air, water, soil, food, food packaging, and plastics.

As a result of discriminatory practices and policies, families with low incomes and families of color are currently and historically disproportionately exposed to chemicals without their knowledge or consent where they live, work, play, pray, and learn.

- Devon C. Payne-Sturges, co-lead author

Furthermore, their communities are more likely to be near industrial facilities, chemical plants, superfund sites, interstates with heavy traffic, or agricultural areas treated with pesticides.

The study shows that when these exposures are minimized, the brain health of children of color improves. Children from households with higher exposures also have more health and developmental issues.

How can communities help low-income children of color?

We need more stringent environmental standards to address pollution that is disproportionately impacting low-income communities and communities of color.

- Tanya Khemet Taiwo, lead author

However, she continues, it's equally crucial that they figure out how to fix the unfair institutions and societal policies that first produce detrimental situations. Researchers may help by more thoroughly describing the causes and effects of the largest harms experienced by children of color and those living in poverty.

Additionally, academics and policymakers must partner with local communities to benefit from local knowledge and skills and encourage community-driven solutions.


The study's authors discovered that, despite decades of evidence showing that low-income and racial/ethnic minority families are more likely to be exposed to neurotoxic chemicals, the majority of researchers neglected to look at how race, ethnicity, and economic hardship interact with those exposures to result in different outcomes.

As researchers look at such linkages, they discover that children who live in homes where social and economic hardships are also present have learning, attention, and behavior issues more closely linked to harmful chemical exposures.

The review's authors urge all levels of government to limit, reduce, and do away with current pollution levels and the use of toxic chemicals, including pesticides, to stop locating and approving new chemical and plastics manufacturing facilities in or close to communities of color and low-income communities; and to enact stronger workplace safety regulations.

Payne-Sturges concludes: "FDA and EPA can act now — not later — to protect families from neurotoxic chemicals by banning phthalates from food contact materials; eliminating lead from residential environments, aviation gas, and children's foods; ending the use of organophosphate pesticides and setting air pollution standards to protect child brain development.


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