Sea level rise exposes minority communities to toxic sites

Rising seas threaten coastal areas with flood-related contamination from toxic sites that dot the coastline. Marginalized communities are expected to bear the brunt of toxic exposure, according to a study published by Environmental Science & Technology in May 2023 by researchers at the University of California at Berkley, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Climate Central.

Who Is At-Risk?

The study identified more than 700 California facilities at risk of coastal flooding and an additional 173 with projected groundwater encroachment. Residents in communities near these sites are more likely to live below the poverty line, be unemployed, be people of color, or experience other forms of social disadvantage, such as linguistic isolation. They also face challenges to evacuate during a flood and often face social stressors that make them more susceptible to the health impacts of pollutant exposures.

What Areas Are At-Risk?

While Alameda and San Mateo counties along the California coast are expected to have the most at-risk hazardous sites by 2050, Orange County is projected to surpass both, as oil and gas wells in both Orange County and Los Angeles County face rising coastal flood risks.

What Are Toxic Chemicals?

Chemicals that can cause death, incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals through contact with skin or by inhalation are defined as toxic.

Dangerous substances that can be found at toxic sites include:

  • Asbestos
  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
  • Pesticide chemicals, e.g., Glyphosate
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

What Are Chemical Inhalation Symptoms?

Symptoms of chemical inhalation vary, according to the Merck Manual and may include:

  • Eye, nose or mouth irritation
  • Coughing
  • Bloody sputum
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways)
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs)
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (allergic responses that lead to inflammation, with or without alveoli and bronchioles scarring)

How Can Residents Know if They’re at Risk?

The researchers released a new interactive online tool that allows users to identify areas that are at risk. The tool overlays social vulnerability indicators, such as the percentage of people who live below the poverty line, who are experiencing unemployment, or who don’t have a high school diploma.

How We Help Victims of Toxic Exposure

The attorneys of our birth defects victims’ alliance understand the pain families face when coping with life-altering birth defects — and the frustration of knowing they could have been prevented. Our team has over 40 years of combined experience in birth defects litigation in cases involving semiconductor and electronics manufacturing, pesticides and energy production. We have the resources and experience to fight on behalf of our clients against corporations that put them in danger. Call us to see how we can help you and your family receive justice for birth defects.