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Environmental Health Problems and Health Inequity Essay

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Updated: Nov 25th, 2021


In the contemporary world, environmental health has become a subject of contention and controversy. Environmental hazards have increased the world over due to increased industrialization, forest encroachment due to scarcity of land and increase in population, human activities and so on. The dependence of humans and other living creatures on the environment has been adversely affected by these environmental hazards causing not only a challenge in fighting poverty, but also aggravating the health conditions of the very habitants of the environment. Legislations have been passed that tend to address environmental health and environment conservation. However, the exposure to the environmental hazards varies from one group of people to another and from one region to another. This means that, there is always inequity in environmental exposure and therefore the reason why some people will experience more health risk than others based on environment.

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The inequity may be categorized in terms of socioeconomic alignment, urban or rural alienation and workplace exposures. These groups of people experience environmental discrimination at varying degrees. Environmental discrimination as defined by Talbot and Verrinder (2005, p. 64) may be expressed to mean inequitable exposure of a group of people to environmental health problems in social settings such as community, schools, and workplaces. This paper will discuss the means in which environmental health problems are a major cause of health inequity.

The high rate of industrialization in the recent years may be termed as a positive effort towards improving the economic conditions of people, but the side effects on the environment are discouraging. There is more environmental waste, air pollution, noise pollution and degraded lands (from mining) than before. This means that, those people living in areas that have a higher number of industries and traffic are more likely to be affected health wise than those in less industrialized areas. For instance, residents in urban areas are more likely to be affected by environmental pollution than people in rural settings. Moreover, even in the urban residency, health inequity is observed based on the socioeconomic status and ethnic orientation. According to The American Lung Association (2009), populations living in urban settings and who have low socioeconomic status as well as being ethnic minority are more likely to experience environmental exposures that are hazardous to their health including water and air pollution than their counterparts in higher socioeconomic status. Moreover, most dumb sites in most countries are always located in areas inhabited by low income earners (either by fate or deliberately) thus making the residents more vulnerable to diseases that arise from such wastes.

The alienation in terms of income levels is a major issue that has led to environmentally aggravated health problems in many poor people. The poor have little or no means to correct the environmental hazards and normally live in low class urban settings where waste management and other environmental issues are less likely to be addressed. In deed, most of these residents have problems in accessing health care facilities either due to lack of finances or due to non-availability of such facilities there areas of residency. While the inequality will be experienced in the terms of socioeconomic status, further alienation will be experienced within the individual settings themselves with women and children tending to be more at risk of environmental health hazards than men. In poor countries and more specifically in poor residence settings, children living in the polluted surroundings and socioeconomically disadvantaged families are more likely to be affected than children in higher socioeconomic settings (Talbot and Verrinder, 2005, p. 64).

Health inequity may also be observed based on the ethnic or racial alienation. For instance, ethnic populations that are less endowed are more likely to be affected by environmental hazards. The ethnic minorities, especially those from poor settings normally work in low key jobs that directly expose them to hazardous emissions or chemicals or other environmental effects. For instance, in America, the colored people who are the minority group and low income people experience environmental injustice as they have no option other than to work in environmentally hazardous areas to make their ends meet (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 2009). These are the people that are more likely to experience the environmentally instigated ailments such as asthma and cancer.

Workplace and school environments have a direct link on exists environmental health inequity. People working in industries that produce toxic chemicals are highly likely to experience health complications. This is also the case for people working in farms that used toxic pesticides such as flower farms horticultural farms or large commercial farms. According to Buell (2003, p. 115) companies, especially those producing chemicals strive to maximize their profits and therefore they have to engage people in their production facilities, exposing them and the adjacent community to toxic waste and thus a direct negative effect on their health. Many companies have experienced protestation and litigations by communities who have been adversely affected, an issue that has infuriated the environmental activists with calls of closure of such companies being their priority in their grievance list. Schools that are near environmentally polluting industries are more likely to be affected causing learning and developmental problems in children that are exposed to the toxic emissions.

Although socioeconomic and proximity may be said to be the key indicators of health inequity based on environmental problems, the age of people also tends to provide another inequity dimension. For instance, children under the age of five and the elderly people of over age sixty five are more prone to health complications from the environment than the middle aged population. Different people will display different responses to the same stimuli based on their life conditions with the elderly being more likely to suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases caused by inhalation of toxic substances.

Environmental; hazards are a menace that needs sound policies and regulations in order to protect public health. Different countries experience different health problems due to the level of endowment to fight the hazard on one side and the level of industrialization experienced. For instance, highly industrialized countries (first world) have higher rate of emissions, making their population more prone to health complications and thus an effect on their lifespan. However, in developing countries, emissions are less especially in rural areas, but lack economic prowess may inhibit efforts to provide quality health care that can effectively check on the environmentally caused health problems.


All said and done, environmental health problems are a cause of health inequity, with proximity to hazardous areas and socioeconomic factors being the key to such inequality. Although some environmental hazards are global such as global warming (causing universal health problems), majority are aligned to affect health of people disproportionately. Children and the elderly are more vulnerable to ailments as their bodies are weak towards environmental inhalations. To address this inequity, understanding of the reason behind different susceptibility to the environmental hazards by certain groups of people is required and measures to remedy the situation advanced.


Buell, F., 2003. From Apocalypse to Way of Life: Environmental Crisis in the American Century. NY: Routledge.

Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies: Health Policy Institute. 2009. The Potential of the Economic Stimulus Package to Address Health Inequity. (Online). Web.

Talbot, L. and Verrinder, G., 2005. Promoting health: the primary health care approach‎. Chatswood: Elsevier Australia.

The American Lung Association. 2001. Urban Air Pollution and Health Inequity: A workshop Report. Environmental Health Perspectives Supplements, (Online) Volume 109, Number S3. Web.

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