Immigrants at risk of toxic exposure due to language barrier, poor economic status, says US professor

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Latino immigrants
Latino leaders and immigration reform supporters gather at Farrand Field on the campus of the University of Colorado to launch "My Country, My Vote," a 12-month voter registration campaign to mobilize Colorado's Latino, immigrant and allied voters October 28, 2015. The rally was organised ahead of a forum held by CNBC before the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Boulder. Reuters/Evan Semon

A new study could raise concerns in the United States as it shows economically disadvantaged immigrant neighbourhoods and non-English speaking Latinos are more exposed to cancer-causing air toxins than other racial groups in the country. These immigrant neighbourhoods are at risk due to the present high levels of harmful air pollution in their resettlement areas.

The study shows that there is a one-in-three chance that immigrants are to be located in air polluted metropolitan areas in the U.S., including the Los Angeles and New York City. Exposure to hazardous air pollutants has been found to potentially cause serious reproductive and birth defects, as well as cancer.

Most of the air pollutants found in the immigrant neighbourhoods were from automobiles and other sources like factories, refineries and power plants. The most vulnerable to being near toxic air emissions are the non-white, economically disadvantaged people, and those who are foreign-born and do not speak English as native language.

"This is particularly the case with Latino immigrants," said researcher Raoul Liévanos, an assistant professor of sociology at the Washington State University, in a press release.

Liévanos work, to be published in November in the Social Science Research, used geographic information system and spatial analyses to map toxic air hotspots across the nation. He monitored the areas with the strongest levels of harmful emissions from stationary and mobile sources.

The analyses show that the U.S. Northeast and California have the majority of toxic hotspots. In the study, about 2,000 neighbourhoods were analysed with their racial, socioeconomic and immigrant status, as well as their proximity to the hotspots.

The current condition of immigrants in the U.S. has already been going on since 1930 to 1950, Liévanos said. Many non-white, foreign born, low-income neighbourhoods by the time were placed near areas with environmental hazards.

Liévanos is hoping that the study would lead local and regional planners to consider the valuable information of the health implications of incompatible land-use practices. He also said that advocacy groups could also use the findings to help at-risk communities avoid health threats of toxic air emissions.

"If we now know that two of the most likely predictors of neighbourhood proximity to [a] toxic air hotspot are its linguistic ability and immigrant status, then we start asking more nuanced questions about the role those factors play in creating such neighbourhood vulnerabilities and how warning systems can be created to mitigate neighbourhood exposures to air toxics," Liévanos said.

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