Approximately 124 million people across the United States—39 percent of the population—live within three miles of a chemical facility. A disproportionate number of them are Black and Latinx lower-income earning families.

Today (September 27), the Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA) released “Life at the Fenceline,” an online map of more than 12,500 hazardous chemical facilities that are federally regulated under the Risk Management Plan Rule.

EJHA also released a report that it jointly produced with environmental health and justice collaborative Coming Clean and The Campaign for Healthier Solutions. It focuses on nine communities—including ones in Los Angeles, Houston and Louisville—located within three miles of hazardous chemical facilities, which the report designates the “fenceline” zone. Researchers looked at the schools, medical facilities and discount retail (“dollar”) stores that are within or right outside the fenceline parameters, as well as the health risks these neighborhoods face.

Compared to national averages, a significantly greater proportion of Blacks (African Americans), Latinos (Hispanics), and people at or near poverty levels tend to live in close proximity to the most hazardous facilities,” the report states, adding:

Exposure to toxic air pollution and stress related to fear of potential chemical disasters increase the health burden on these communities. These hazards are amplified by other negative socioeconomic and health factors, including higher rates of diseases such as diabetes and asthma; lack of access to healthy foods; exposure to toxic chemicals in products sold at discount retail stores; substandard housing; and stress from racism, poverty, unemployment and crime; among other factors. Addressing the cumulative impacts of these various environmental health risks and social determinants of health on these overburdened communities is the foundation of environmental justice (EJ).

A number of vulnerable populations are found inside these fenceline areas. According to the report, 24 million children attend 125,000 schools in the zones. There are also 11,000 medical facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes. There is an increased risk of illness caused by exposure to toxic air for those living within close proximity of chemical facilities. This includes a higher likelihood of cancer and repiratory illness such as asthma.

Class also plays a factor, the researchers found. “For people living in areas with low incomes and low access to healthy foods within fenceline zones, these risks increase further in all 9 areas studied,” reads the report.

The report details a number of recommendations to minimize the health dangers faced by people living or working within the fenceline. Researchers urge facilities to adopt safer processes for handling dangerous chemicals; push for the implementation of health impact assessments; advocate for dollar stores located within these areas to stock fresh, healthy food; and call for a halt to the construction of new chemical facilities near homes and schools.

Read the entire report here.