Berlin Environmental Atlas

09.01 Environmental Justice (Edition 2015)

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Complementary Indicator 4: Environmental Load, Social Disadvantage and Small-scale Mortality in the State of Berlin
(AfS (Amt für Statistik Berlin-Brandenburg, Statistical Office for Berlin-Brandenburg), Bezirksamt Mitte von Berlin, Abt. Gesundheit, Borough Office Mitte of Berlin, Health Department 2015)

The connection between environmental loads, social disadvantage and health impairments, including higher mortality, has been a topic of scientific research in Germany for quite a while.
However, the contexts for the origins of disease and death are usually far too complex and individual to be derived from the more or less large-scale measurements and calculations of the environmental situation. Thus, the approach that in investigating mortality on a small scale it is highest in the planning areas exposed to the heaviest loads – an idea that seems plausible at first – falls short of reality. For information is usually lacking for the further indicators relevant to individual cases, such as

  • exact residential area and duration of residence,
  • working conditions,
  • leisure time behaviour,
  • individual behaviour hazardous to health (e.g. smoking).

Despite these limitations regarding the availability of required additional information, it can be assumed that the criteria

  • age,
  • social condition and
  • the different environmental loads

have a decisive influence on the distribution of deaths and that they can be used for a first planning area related estimation.

In order to determine to what extent the different environmental loads contribute to the (additional) mortality, the analysis particularly needs to consider the “confounding variables” mentioned above, age and social condition. A small-scale analysis of mortality in the State of Berlin in this respect was possible because data regarding mortality, age structure and social condition of the population for the planning areas in the years 2006-2012 are available. In that period, between around 31,000 and a little more than 32,000 people died in Berlin annually. Around 70 % of all deaths could be attributed to an underlying disease from the field of tumours (cancer) or diseases of the circulatory or respiratory system.
For the evaluation in this analysis, it was necessary to find a cause for the mortality for which there are a sufficiently many cases as well as a documented connection with environmental loads. Diseases of the respiratory system (e.g. bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma) were chosen for this purpose.
It has been sufficiently proven that the incidence of tumours and circulatory diseases strongly correlates with the social condition of the persons affected. Besides possible environmental loads, the living conditions and the health-relevant behaviour play a major role with respect to mortality. Lung cancer, for example, can be caused both by smoking and through long-term exposure to environmental loads.
The mortality from respiratory diseases also correlates clearly with the status index on the PLA level; however, the possible connection with environmental loads is more obvious in this case than for circulatory diseases, and the potential distortion through confounding variables like lifestyle factors (smoking) is not quite as strong as for lung cancer.

Fig. 6: Distribution of mortality from disorders of the respiratory system 2006-2012 at the level of the planning areas in Berlin (Statistical Office for Berlin-Brandenburg, Borough Office Mitte of Berlin, Health Department 2015)

The analyses generated by calculating the correlation between the standardised mortality rate for respiratory diseases and the environmental justice indicators at least indicate a relatively strong linear relationship with the status index (social condition) in the planning areas. Since much information on the individual level is lacking, it is not possible to determine with the data available whether this is due to lifestyle or rather environmental factors. Further investigations on this issue are necessary in order to make reliable statements.

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