NYC’s Poor Black, Latino Communities Hardest Hit By Canadian Wildfire Smoke

Those residents disproportionately visited hospital emergency rooms, adding evidence of systemic environmental racism.

As several studies have suggested, it’s no surprise that communities of color in New York City were disproportionately impacted by toxic smoke from Canadian wildfires that descended on the city two weeks ago.

The highest numbers of asthma-related emergency room visits were from ZIP codes where low-income residents from predominantly Black and Hispanic communities, Gothamist reports, citing Census and local health department data.

Over a five-day period, from June 6 - 10, there were more than 1,000 asthma-related emergency department visits across the city. The data indicates that 70 percent of those visits were from people living in predominantly Black and Hispanic ZIP codes and 60 percent were from high-poverty neighborhoods.

Vulnerable Communities of Color Threatened By ‘Hazardous' NYC Air Quality

The air quality index in the city peaked June 7 at 405 out of 500, far surpassing the previous record of 279 in July 1981. An AQI above 300 is considered “hazardous.”

Nationally, dangerous levels of air pollution is a threat particularly in low-income areas and communities of color, where people – under normal conditions – are exposed disproportionately to higher levels of dangerous fine particulate air pollution than other groups, according to research released in 2022 from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study, published in the journal Nature, was not the first to show that poor, Black, Latino and Asian Americans are at higher risk of premature death from exposure to PM2.5 air pollution.

In 2021, research published in the journal Science Advances showed that communities of color are exposed to more pollution from nearly every source than white communities. Black Americans were particularly exposed to every source of air pollution, including industrial, vehicular, agricultural, and construction, to name just a few.

“If you go to communities of color across this country and ask them, ‘What’s the source of the environmental problems?’ they can point you to every one: the highway, the chemical plants, the refineries, the legacy pollution left over from decades ago, in the houses, in the air, in the water, in the playgrounds. Empirical research is now catching up with the reality: that America is segregated and so is pollution,” Texas Southern University Professor Robert D. Bullard told The New York Times about the 2021 study.

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