By Monica Lee, Communications & Development Intern
Children are oftentimes more vulnerable to the negative effects of environmental injustice. This is because their bodies have not been fully developed to face the harsh health impacts from their environment. Nonetheless, according to the National Vital Statistics Reports done by the CDC, in 2018, infants of a black mother were more than twice as likely to die compared to infants of a white, Asian, or Hispanic mother. This is an issue raised by inequality that has always been around, and yet does not receive enough attention.
There are many reasons that lead to this infant mortality gap based on race. For example, access to health care, access to adequate food, and other socioeconomic factors create differences in children’s health. Most importantly, however, the environment in which the child grows up in plays the greatest role in affecting the child’s health. Environmental injustice is the most significant factor that affects this infant mortality rate gap.
The major causes of infant mortality in the US include asthma, birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, and preterm birth. These illnesses are all effects of the surrounding environment, either directly affecting the child or indirectly through the mother.
Families with lower socioeconomic status tend to be disproportionately exposed to areas with more serious air pollution. Thus, children growing up in these communities have a higher chance of getting asthma. Specifically, even among adults, asthma rates are higher in blacks than in whites. This is a clear case of environmental injustice that leads to the infant mortality rate gap.
Besides asthma, the other causes of infant mortality can also be attributed to environmental injustice. Communities with higher exposures to toxic chemicals lead to more infant mortality deaths. Mothers exposed to toxic chemicals may face health effects, thereby causing birth defects leading to infant mortality. At the same time, infants directly exposed to these toxic chemicals face a greater consequence as their immune system have not been fully developed. Families with lower socioeconomic status tend to reside in these communities with higher exposures to toxic chemicals, thereby causing the infant mortality rate gap.
Many of the causes of infant mortality are created by the environment, and environmental injustice plays a huge role in affecting specific communities with lower socioeconomic status. Thus, there is a large racial gap of infant mortality rates as children’s health are more likely to be affected by the negative effects, such as air pollution and toxic chemicals. This issue requires more attention in order for the inequality to be eliminated completely. As a result of environmental injustice, many infant lives are lost without the chance to enjoy their full life.