Associations between socio-demographic characteristics and chemical concentrations contributing to cumulative exposures in the United States

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Abstract

Association rule mining (ARM) has been widely used to identify associations between various entities in many fields. Although some studies have utilized it to analyze the relationship between chemicals and human health effects, fewer have used this technique to identify and quantify associations between environmental and social stressors. Socio-demographic variables were generated based on U.S. Census tract-level income, race/ethnicity population percentage, education level, and age information from the 2010–2014, 5-Year Summary files in the American Community Survey (ACS) database, and chemical variables were generated by utilizing the 2011 National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) census tract-level air pollutant exposure concentration data. Six mobile- and industrial-source pollutants were chosen for analysis, including acetaldehyde, benzene, cyanide, particulate matter components of diesel engine emissions (namely, diesel PM), toluene, and 1,3-butadiene. ARM was then applied to quantify and visualize the associations between the chemical and socio-demographic variables. Census tracts with a high percentage of racial/ethnic minorities and populations with low income tended to have higher estimated chemical exposure concentrations (fourth quartile), especially for diesel PM, 1,3-butadiene, and toluene. In contrast, census tracts with an average population age of 40–50 years, a low percentage of racial/ethnic minorities, and moderate-income levels were more likely to have lower estimated chemical exposure concentrations (first quartile). Unsupervised data mining methods can be used to evaluate potential associations between environmental inequalities and social disparities, while providing support in public health decision-making contexts.

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