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SNAPSHOT: Occupation, Environment, and Health

Human exposure to air pollution is often measured either where we work, or where we live.

A new study from CUNY’s Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control looked at both. Researchers analyzed pollution exposure for residents of the Bronx in their neighborhoods as well as on the job.

View of Bronx, New York

Professors Andrew R. Maroko (who also teaches at Lehman College) and Brian T. Pavilonis examined Bronx Census data on race, ethnicity, income, and occupation, and correlated it with data for concentrations of pollutants like black carbon and airborne articulate matter.

“The Bronx borough of New York City has often been studied with respect to environmental justice issues because of its high proportion of vulnerable populations, historic settlement patterns, environmental burdens, and poor health outcomes,” the authors wrote. “However, occupational exposures to airborne particulate matter are often overlooked in the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease.” Yet depending on the industry, the impact of on-the-job exposure to pollution is potentially “orders of magnitude larger than environmental exposures.”

They found that the “most vulnerable occupational groups” — those exposed to pollutants in sectors like construction, manufacturing, and the service industry — are “positively associated” with neighborhood exposure to hazardous levels of pollutants. The risks were highest for Hispanics.

“This combination of vulnerabilities is likely to be cumulative,” they concluded, adding that social inequities due to discrimination, poverty, and stress can also exacerbate the health toll of pollution exposure.