Story at a glance

  • A new study found that living near a site contaminated by toxic waste, like a landfill or manufacturing facility, could shave up to a year off a person's life expectancy.
  • Living in close proximity to a Superfund Site — a site contaminated by toxic chemical waste — could take up to 0.2 years off a person’s life.
  • People living in disadvantaged conditions while in proximity to the toxic sites could see a year shaved off their lives.

A new study found that living near a site contaminated by toxic waste, like a landfill or manufacturing facility, could shave up to a year off a person's life.

Hanadi Rifai, a researcher at the University of Houston, and her team found that living in close proximity to a Superfund site — a site contaminated by toxic chemical waste — could take up to 0.2 years off a person’s life, The Guardian reported. But it could be worse for a person living in a socioeconomically challenging area. Rifai’s team found that people living in disadvantaged conditions in close proximity to the toxic sites could see a year taken off their lives. 

Rifai told The Guardian her interest in the study was piqued after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 when she noticed people living near toxic sites along the Houston Ship Channel seemed to have a diminished life expectancy. She explained that her initial observation enticed the team to conduct “a more comprehensive study.”

Rifai said heading into the study the team thought there might be an economic impact on the life expectancy of a person living near toxic waste, but added their actual findings were both “surprising” and “concerning.” 


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There are currently more than 1,300 Superfund sites in the U.S, which are cataloged by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the National Priorities list. The catalog is used for investigations and as a resource for funding cleanups, according to The Guardian. 

Rifai explained that even after a cleanup, toxic chemicals could remain at the site. Additionally, she discussed how weather conditions and natural disasters might exacerbate an already perilous situation, The Guardian reported. Nearly 60 percent of the sites could be affected by natural disasters, like flooding, wildfires or hurricanes, according to the outlet. 

“We call them cascading impacts,” Rifai said. “We wanted to see, in the big context of these waste sites, how an event might bring toxic chemicals closer to people.”

“You may think you’ve already built with an issue [in mind], but a natural hazard may change that picture. You may have to go back and rethink what you did and make sure that it’s hardened against natural hazards, so that you don’t have continuing exposure or any emerging exposure,” Rifai adds.


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Published on Apr 14, 2021