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Eur J Public Health. 2010 Feb;20(1):36-42. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckp221. Epub 2010 Jan 4.

Social inequities in environmental risks associated with housing and residential location--a review of evidence.

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WHO Regional Office for Europe, European Centre for Environment and Health, Bonn, Germany.



Housing conditions and environmental quality of residential areas are differentially distributed in the population. Less affluent population groups are more often affected by inadequate housing conditions and higher environmental burden in their residential neighbourhoods. A synthesis of the dispersed evidence on health-related housing characteristics and social status is needed to provide support for housing policies addressing social inequities.


The literature on social inequities and environmental risks related to housing and residential location was searched in health, environmental and geographical databases and reviewed to summarize the evidence. Household-level socio-economic status and income were considered as indicators of social status. The review was limited to European evidence.


Adequate studies were only available for few countries. Most studies identified the less affluent population groups as most exposed to environmental risks in the place of residence. Inequities were reported for risks experienced within the dwelling (such as exposure to dampness, chemical contamination, noise, temperature problems and poor sanitation) and related to residential location (neighbourhood quality, traffic-related pollution, proximity to pollution sites). Increased exposure to environmental risks within more affluent population groups was rarely identified.


The review indicates that social status and especially low income are strongly associated with increased exposure to environmental risks in the private home or related to residential location. However, due to the methodological variety of the available studies and the lack of data for many countries, it is not possible to provide a general assessment of the magnitude of inequity in Europe at the present time.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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