Frequent Questions

What Are Some Examples of Environmental Problems?

Lead - Almost two-thirds of American housing units were built before 1970. Although the use of lead paint for houses was banned in the 1970's, older homes often contain paint with high concentrations of lead. Additional sources of lead in the home are: drinking water extracting lead from lead pipes and fixtures, lead in dust (usually from paint), and contaminated soils carried in from outside. The primary pathway for exposure is from ingestion of paint chips and dust containing lead. There is a particularly high concentration of lead problems in low-income and culturally diverse populations, who live in the inner city where the public housing units were built before 1970.

Waste Sites - Low income, and quite often culturally diverse populations, are more likely than other groups to live near landfills, incinerators, and hazardous waste treatment facilities.

Air Pollution - In 1990, 437 of the 3,109 counties and independent cities in the U.S. failed to meet at least one of EPA's ambient air quality standards. Many Americans live in these communities: 57 percent of all whites, 65 percent of African Americans, and 80 percent of Hispanics.

Pesticides - Approximately 90 percent of the 2 million hired farm workers in the United States are people of color, including Chicano, Puerto Ricans, Caribbean blacks and African Americans. Through direct exposure to pesticides, farm workers and their families may face serious health risks. It has been estimated that as many as 313,000 farm workers in the U.S. may suffer from pesticide-related illnesses each year.

Wastewater: City Sewers - Modern sewage systems were developed to carry sewage and storm water separately to prevent overflow problems that are common in older, urban areas. Many inner cities still have sewer systems that are not designed to handle storm overflow. As a result, raw sewage may be carried into local rivers and streams during storms, creating a health hazard.

Wastewater: Agricultural Runoff - More recently, streams and rivers in rural areas with concentrations of commercial truck farms and animal feedlots have suffered mysterious lesions in fish and algae blooms resulting in fish kills. High levels of phosphorus support algae growth, which blocks re-aeration, reducing the level of oxygen needed to support aquatic life. It is suspected that the increased use of commercial fertilizers and concentrations of animal wastes contribute to the degradation of receiving streams and rivers in rural areas, with communities that are often low income and culturally diverse.

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