Health Disparties in The Bay Due To Environment

Richard Duboc

Recent studies have shown that people are living longer and are healthier in certain Bay Area neighborhoods than in others.

In data released by the Healthy Communities Institute, residents of the Russian Hill area in San Francisco live on average 14 years longer than those who live in Bayview- Hunters Point. In the East Bay, Alameda County records have shown that residents in Oakland’s Sobrante Park neighborhood live on average 16 years fewer then residents of Walnut Creek.

The reasons for this phenomenon are both social and economic, but are they also environmental?

According to a 1999 study by the National Air Toxics Assessment, East Oakland, an area in which Sobrante Park is located, is exposed to an amount of cancer causing air toxins which are above the average for the rest of the Bay Area.

These air toxins are most assuredly created by a confluence of freeways, factories, the Oakland Airport, and the nearby Port of Oakland. In fact the Port of Oakland, which is the point of delivery for 99% of all cargo brought into Northern California by freighter, is a major source of cancer causing carcinogens.

The California Environmental Protection agencies reports that 952 per 1 million people are at risk of getting cancer as a result of the port in the neighboring West Oakland community. Maxine Oliver Benson, an Oakland resident, states, “We’re in the mitts of pollution because we’re in a disenfranchised community.”

Residents of the Bayview-Hunters Point share their neighborhood with a PG&E plant, the former sight of the Hunters Point Shipyard, a sewage plant, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 200 known toxic chemicals.

There is a historical reason why East Oakland and Bayview-Hunters Point also happen to be predominantly African American. During World War II many African Americans who moved to the Bay Area in search of wartime jobs, found that the only areas where they could rent and buy property was directly adjacent to the shipyards, docks, and factories in which they worked. As a result 50 percent of the population of both East Oakland and Bayview-Hunters Point are African American today.

Forty-eight percent of East Oakland households have an annual income of less than $30,000 and Bayview-Hunters Point has the highest poverty rates in San Francisco.

Respiratory disorders and heart diseases are the leading cause of hospitalization among African Americans according to Alameda County Public Health Department, unlike other race/ethnic groups in East Oakland,
The ACPHD has also stated that there are 3 to 4 times more people 14 years of age and under hospitalized in East Oakland for asthma then among the national average.

In response to ongoing health concerns among certain area of Alameda County, ACDH spokeswoman Sherri Willis said, “we’re looking at more than medical issues. Good health is linked to good social, environmental, economic development outcomes.”

It is evident that that environmental health hazards combined with limited economic means can lead to poor diet and lifestyle chooses. In an interview with Reuters Health, Dr. Tajinder P. Singh, of Children’s Hospital Boston said that, “kids from affluent neighborhoods have healthier lifestyles—better diets, more opportunities for exercise – so that even if they are overweight, they may be in good health.”

Numerous studies have shown that there are more fast food chains and less grocery outlets which provide healthy alternatives in poorer areas, and this can be observed by simply driving down any number streets in certain Bay Area neighborhoods.

Those who live in lower income neighborhoods find it harder to make the healthy choices that potentially prevent chronic illness.

It certainly appears that if environmental conditions aren’t changed, a health disparity will continue to define the economic divide in the Bay Area.