Immigrant Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be exposed to cancer-causing pollutants: study

Poorer neighborhoods of immigrant, non-English speaking Latinos are more likely to be exposed to cancer-causing pollutants than communities of any other group in the country, according to a new study published this week.

Raoul Liévanos, a Washington State University sociology professor, found that the racial and socioeconomic divide was stark. “Neighborhoods comprised of nonwhite, economically disadvantaged people who do not speak English as a native language and are foreign-born are the most vulnerable to being near these toxic air emissions,” Liévanos said in a statement. “This is particularly the case with Latino immigrants.”

He created a national map of hotspots where air toxins were the strongest, measuring the lifetime cancer risk of people living around the U.S. Then he looked at the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of the neighborhoods that were most affected.


Red means higher toxic pollution levels. Several metropolitan areas with hotspots are noted.

The pollutants measured came from factories, vehicles, and power plants, and can cause cancer and other serious health problems.

Poorer black and Asian communities were also more likely to be exposed to the toxins, but not at as high a level as poorer Latino communities and especially immigrant, non-English speaking poor Latino communities. Notably, Liévanos controlled for population density, amount of manufacturing, and housing values, which means a neighborhood’s racial and socioeconomic characteristics have an effect independent of those factors.

Liévanos said the study’s results show the continuing effects of America’s segregated housing policy, which forces nonwhite and immigrant communities to live near environmental hazards like smoke-spewing factories.

He suggested that the study should encourage health organizations to put out more environmental advisories in Spanish and not just English. On a broader level, it should also make people realize that the air we breath is far from equitable.