written by Elise Miller, MEd
Violent events rock families and communities in the U.S. daily. But last week was particularly wrenching as we learned first of two incidents of extrajudicial shootings of black men by police—one in Louisiana, the other in Minnesota—followed by the killing of five police officers by an individual sniper at an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Texas. The complexities and causes of each case may be unique, but at the core is an abiding racism that continues to permeate our country.
Racism is perpetuated in multiple and insidious ways, such as the widening income gap, toxic stress, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthcare and to nature. Another factor intimately interconnected with these, but often overlooked, is exposure to pollutants and other toxic chemicals. We know that being exposed to heavy metals and neurotoxic chemicals can lead to cognitive deficits and developmental delays that in turn have been linked to juvenile delinquency and violent behavior. We know that many kids of color and low-income families are more likely to live in housing stock with lead paint and pipes and close to polluting industries. We know that during pregnancy poorer women are disproportionately exposed to harmful chemicals associated with learning and developmental disorders. We know that working-class parents often have to take the lowest-paying jobs, many of which require regular contact with contaminants linked to cognitive and behavioral problems. We know for most of these families the only food they can afford comes pre-packaged and contains toxic chemicals that can impact neurodevelopment.