The Intersection of Immigrant and Environmental Health: A Scoping Review of Observational Population Exposure and Epidemiologic Studies

Kelvin C. Fong, Seulkee Heo, Chris C. Lim, Honghyok Kim, Alisha Chan, Whanhee Lee, Rory Stewart, Hayon Michelle Choi, Ji Young Son, Michelle L. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Transnational immigration has increased since the 1950s. In countries such as the United States, immigrants now account for >15% of the population. Although differences in health between immigrants and nonimmigrants are well documented, it is unclear how environmental exposures contribute to these disparities. OBJECTIVES: We summarized current knowledge comparing immigrants’ and nonimmigrants’ exposure to and health effects of environmental exposures. METHODS: We conducted a title and abstract review on articles identified through PubMed and selected those that assessed environmental exposures or health effects separately for immigrants and nonimmigrants. After a full text review, we extracted the main findings from eligible studies and categorized each article as exposure-focused, health-focused, or both. We also noted each study’s exposure of interest, study location, exposure and statistical methods, immigrant and comparison groups, and the intersecting socioeconomic characteristics controlled for. RESULTS: We conducted a title and abstract review on 3,705 articles, a full text review on 84, and extracted findings from 50 studies. There were 43 studies that investigated exposure (e.g., metals, organic compounds, fine particulate matter, hazardous air pollutants) disparities, but only 12 studies that assessed health disparities (e.g., mortality, select morbidities). Multiple studies reported higher exposures in immigrants compared with nonimmigrants. Among immigrants, studies sometimes observed exposure disparities by country of origin and time since immigration. Of the 50 studies, 43 were conducted in North America. DISCUSSION: The environmental health of immigrants remains an understudied area, especially outside of North America. Although most identified studies explored potential exposure disparities, few investigated subsequent differences in health effects. Future research should investigate environmental health disparities of immigrants, especially outside North America. Additional research gaps include the role of immigrants’ country of origin and time since immigration, as well as the combined effects of immigrant status with intersecting socioeconomic characteristics, such as race/ethnicity, income, and education attainment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number096001
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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