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Health Aff (Millwood). 2011 May;30(5):879-87. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0153.

Understanding the cumulative impacts of inequalities in environmental health: implications for policy.

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Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and in the School of Public Health at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, CA, USA.


Racial or ethnic minority groups and low-income communities have poorer health outcomes than others. They are more frequently exposed to multiple environmental hazards and social stressors, including poverty, poor housing quality, and social inequality. Researchers are grappling with how best to characterize the cumulative effects of these hazards and stressors in order to help regulators and decision makers craft more-effective policies to address health and environmental disparities. In this article we synthesize the existing scientific evidence regarding the cumulative health implications of higher rates of exposure to environmental hazards, along with individual biological susceptibility and social vulnerability. We conclude that current environmental policy, which is focused narrowly on pollutants and their sources, should be broadened to take into account the cumulative impact of exposures and vulnerabilities encountered by people who live in neighborhoods consisting largely of racial or ethnic minorities or people of low socioeconomic status.

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