Living next to an oil refinery has been linked to an increased risk of stroke in a new study carried out in the southern US. It was also evident that the health burden overwhelmingly impacted poorer people, generally because they are forced to live in areas closer to fossil fuel refineries.
Scientists at Yale University, Brown University, and Seoul National University looked at the number of strokes in adults and their association between petrol refineries in seven southern US states: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
After accounting for other factors that may influence people's health, they found that living within 5 kilometers (just over 3 miles) of an oil refinery significantly increased the risk of stroke. Although the figures varied from state to state, living near petrol refineries was found to account for 5.6 percent of strokes in the exposed areas on average.
“The geographic concentration of economic sectors, and their associated by-products, is an underexplored, plausible risk factor for stroke. By-products of petroleum production and refining include a mixture of pollutants that may impact the quality of adjacent air, soil, and potable water in residential areas,” lead author Honghyok Kim said in a statement.
The researchers didn’t specifically look to understand why the relationship occurs in this study. However, there’s a bunch of good evidence that shows how oil refineries can impact cerebrovascular health.
It’s clear, for instance, that air pollution from refineries is loaded with pollutants that have been implicated in stroke pathogenesis, including particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx ), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Areas around oil refineries are also more likely to be struck by water and soil pollution containing hydrocarbons, grease, ammonia, and other unpleasant residues.
This is likely to have an array of consequences for public health. Previous studies have found that living near an oil refinery was associated with a significantly increased risk of cancer diagnosis across all cancer types.
It’s not just oil refineries that take their toll on public health either. Just last month, a separate study in the US found that living near a fracking site is linked to an increased risk of children developing leukemia.
“Our research has the potential to inform both public health and environmental regulatory interventions to mitigate the potential health risks conferred by PPR [petroleum production and refining] exposure,” Kim concludes.
The new study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.