How to determine health risks of living at a particular address
June 22, 2006 6:14 PM   Subscribe

How can I tell how dangerous pollution in a specific area is to my health?

I noticed that the area near where I work, and where I would like to live, is a hotbed of EPA Superfund sites. See here and zoom out once. Also, this looks like bad news.

When I start looking for a place down there, I'd like to factor health risks into my decision. I have a friend who refuses to live anywhere but Palo Alto for fear of the ill effects of toxic waste. I wonder if she's acting rationally given the higher cost of housing there. I would certainly hate to make such an expensive choice without data to back it up.

I suspect there are other sources of pollution besides just Superfund sites (smog, for instance), but it's got me wondering if it's such a hot idea to live and work there.

I did manage to find stats for causes of death by zip code in California but the deaths (by cancer in particular) were only significantly higher than average in zip codes with a major hospital.

The question I really want answered is: "If I move to street address X, how much am I increasing my probability of getting a serious illness per year that I live there compared to street address Y [or the national average]?" Cancer is probably the greatest concern, but I imagine other illnesses (such as respiratory illness) should be factored in too.

I know it's overly optimistic of me to hope for that exact answer to be out there, but maybe there's a partial answer somewhere, or at least something that correlates with the information I'm looking for.
posted by jewzilla to Health & Fitness (5 answers total)
Read. I think you're being overly dramatic.. you have plenty of real worries, like diet, exercise, and and fiber consumption, as well as genetics. Hell, you live in California, do you get checked for melanoma and other skin cancers at least once a year?
posted by kcm at 6:35 PM on June 22, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the link, reading it now! Diet, excercise, fiber, and genetics won't change if I move to Sunnyvale instead of Palo Alto. Sun exposure is about the same anywhere I'd consider living--and I'm responsible with sunblock--so that's basically constant. I feel like I have a good idea of how changing those behaviors affects my health, but I'm really clueless about the pollution factor--hence the question :)
posted by jewzilla at 6:51 PM on June 22, 2006

This isn't quite what you're looking for, but I've always heard that living near dry cleaners can be bad. But in all honesty, I haven't done much research on this.
posted by moonshine at 7:23 PM on June 22, 2006

I would see if you can get a water-quality report on the municipal supply for whatever place you're interested in. I don't know that CA requires cities to generate the reports, but it is likely. The reports are significant because lots of pollutants find their way into the water (and the city will try to get them out - if there are still measurable quantities in the tap water, it's a red flag). Also, even if you don't drink the water, you'll be washing yourself, your clothes, and your dishes in it.

I'd also try and stay far from any kind of chemical-production plant. A W.R. Grace facility in my area has caused at least two evacuations of neighbors up to a mile away, by releasing toxic chemicals into the air.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:00 AM on June 23, 2006

I would guess the best thing you could do to reduce your health risks would be to live in a place where you could drive less. (I'm not sure where that would be, since you didn't say whee you work.) There are indeed Superfund sites in Silicon Valley, but I'm not sure that Palo Alto is vastly safer than, say, Sunnyvale or Mountain View.
posted by lukemeister at 3:07 AM on June 24, 2006

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