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Your Environment. Your Health.

Racial Disparities in Chemical Exposures for U.S. Women

Justin Colacino, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
R01ES028802, P30ES017885

NIEHS grantees identified striking differences in markers of chemical exposure for women of different races and ethnicities, independent of other demographic factors. According to the authors, the findings shed light on the environmental factors that may drive racial disparities in disease outcomes.

The researchers conducted a comprehensive analysis of chemical exposures by race and ethnicity in 38,080 U.S. women. They studied biomarker data for 143 chemicals collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 1999 and 2014. The scientists adjusted for age, socioeconomic status, smoking habits, and the cycle of NHANES data collection.

Compared with non-Hispanic white women, they observed higher overall biomarker levels of several chemicals among non-Hispanic black, Mexican American, other Hispanic, and other race or multiracial women. Specifically, these women had higher levels of pesticides and their metabolites, compounds associated with personal care and consumer products, such as parabens and monoethyl phthalate, and several metals, including mercury and arsenic. Average differences in chemical biomarker concentrations between race and ethnic groups exceeded 400% for paraben metabolite comparisons between young non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white women.

Metals, pesticides, and chemicals in consumer products showed the highest disparities of the chemicals studied. Some, like the metabolites of pesticides that contain dichlorophenol, persisted across age groups. According to the authors, the findings could help prioritize chemicals when designing studies and help guide public health interventions to reduce environmental and health disparities across populations.

Citation: Nguyen VK, Kahana A, Heidt J, Polemi K, Kvasnicka J, Jolliet O, Colacino JA. 2020. A comprehensive analysis of racial disparities in chemical biomarker concentrations in United States women, 1999-2014. Environ Int 137:105496.

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