Why Pollution and the Environment Matter to Black People

New Environmental Protection Agency rules affect communities of color.

Posted: 04/23/2012 06:31 PM EDT
Smog, Earth Day, Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, National News

When we think of Earth Day, we might not think that environmental issues — global warming, contaminated water/air and gas guzzling — are related to us. But they are.


Studies show that air pollution, illegal dumping and power plants are more likely to occur in African-American and low-income communities. These hazards have been linked to disproportionate rates of asthma, severe allergies, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer — all diseases that African-Americans disproportionately suffer from.


And sadly, air pollution is hard to escape in many of our communities. Recently, the Center for American Progress reported on some eye-opening statistics:


—An analysis of polluting facilities in California found that 62 percent of residents living within six miles of a petroleum refinery, cement plant, or power plant were people of color. And a startling 68 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, compared to only 56 percent of the white population.

—Continued exposure to air pollution and other environmental toxins has taken its toll on the health of individuals of color. African-Americans and Hispanics have been especially hard hit by asthma. African Americans suffer from the disease at rates 35 percent higher than whites.

—Asthma is also more likely to be fatal for asthmatics of color: African-Americans and Puerto Ricans are roughly three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than whites. And exposure to residential allergens may be responsible for more than a third of the asthma risk faced by minority children.


But that doesn't mean that all is lost. 


According to the Center for American Progress, under President Obama and Lisa Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency's first black commissioner, the EPA has passed some laws that have made it harder to pollute our communities. They wrote:


Within the last year, however, the EPA instituted new mercury and air toxics standards and restrictions on cross-state air pollution. Last week the EPA also proposed carbon emissions limits on coal plants — a historic first step to slow the growth of the major pollutant responsible for global climate change. The EPA’s new policies could improve racial health disparities by shielding millions of Americans of color from further exposure to pollutants.


And while, there is a lot you cannot control, there are some little things that make your area more green:


Don't waste energy: The less energy we use, the less energy is coming from the power plants in our communities. Replace standard bulbs with energy-saving ones and turn off all unused appliances.

Recycle when you can: It's easier said than done — 69 percent of Americans don't recycle. Try recycling paper, cans, plastic and cardboard.

Be mindful of H20: Experts say each day we waste 2-5 gallons of water when brushing our teeth. So when we are not using water, turn it off.

Just save no to plastic: Some plastics are toxic and they take hundreds of years to break down, so they end up in the water and back in our food. When going to the store, try reusable canvas bags instead.



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