A new study has found a strong link between exposure to pollutants from petroleum refineries and stroke rates in the southern United States. The findings were published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Petroleum production and refining are concentrated in the southern United States (US) (PPR). This process produces a number of pollutants that have previously been linked to diseases that cause strokes. However, until now, there has been little research into the relationship between residential PPR exposure and stroke risk.
“The geographic concentration of economic sectors and their byproducts is an unexplored, but plausible risk factor for stroke. Petroleum production and refining byproducts include a variety of pollutants that may have an impact on the quality of nearby air, soil, and potable water in residential areas “explains Honghyok Kim, the study’s lead author who will start as an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in September.
Yale University, Brown University, and Seoul National University researchers investigated the link between petroleum exposure and the number of strokes in adults. The researchers examined areas within a 2.5 km or 5 km radius of petrol refineries using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States’ Population Level Analysis and Community EStimates (PLACES). As a PPR pollutant, sulphur dioxide—a chemical that may increase the risk of stroke—is prevalent in these areas. They discovered that living near gasoline refineries was responsible for 5.6% of adult strokes.
This figure varies by state, with Mississippi having the most petrol refineries, which may explain the highest prevalence of strokes (11.7%). This figure varies by census tract, with one census tract in Texas having the highest prevalence of strokes (25.3%), which could be explained by petrol refineries.
Furthermore, the researchers discovered that the increased prevalence of strokes caused by PPR may differ depending on sociodemographic factors. People with lower socioeconomic status were disproportionately affected because they lived closer to petroleum refineries.
“Our findings have the potential to inform both public health and environmental regulatory interventions to reduce the potential health risks associated with PPR exposure,” Kim concludes.