Past data has shown 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 yet for too long there has been this lingering belief that caring about the environment is something that only white people do. But perhaps those perceptions are beginning to change. This week, the Public Policy Institute of California released findings of a statewide poll that found the majority of people of color surveyed believe that pollution has a negative impact on their health and their communities.
According to the San Francisco Public Press, researchers polled more than 25,000 people living in California and found the following:
— 62 percent of Latinos and 53 percent of African-Americans report air pollution as a serious threat to themselves and their immediate families. This is a higher percentage than whites (41 percent) and of the general population (50 percent).
— When asked if social class was a factor endangering the health of low-income people, 66 percent of Latinos and 58 percent of African-Americans agreed. As opposed to 47 percent overall and 35 percent of whites.
— Overall, 41 percent of adults reported suffering from asthma or other respiratory ailments. But the rate was higher among people of color: African-Americans (54 percent) and Latinos (43 percent).
— While residents were concerned about pollution in their area, they were unaware of major climate-change policy reforms. Fewer people in ethnic minority communities — 27 percent of African-Americans and 26 percent of Latinos — were aware of the California’s carbon cap-and-trade program than were whites or the general population. This program would issue permits to companies that limit greenhouse gas emissions and allow them to sell unused permits to other companies.
Reverend Daniel Buford, vice president of the nonprofit Communities for a Better Environment, told KALW, a public radio station in San Francisco, that these findings are not all that surprising.
“We've got a lot of people in the communities of color who are disappearing and dying as a result of pollution and exposure to these carcinogens.” He added, “They are disappearing and dying mysteriously the same way people are disappearing and dying in Bermuda Triangle.”
In April, a report conducted by the Centers for American Progress found that 62 percent of California 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.
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(Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)