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EPA says Black Americans face more health hazards because of air pollution

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 3/2/2018, 1:10 p.m.
Race, not poverty, was found to be the strongest predictor of exposure to

Race, not poverty, was found to be the strongest predictor of exposure to PM 2.5, a health-damaging particle created when fossil fuels are burned. That’s according to Phil McKenna of Inside Climate News, reporting on a study by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Researchers at the EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment looked at facilities emitting air pollution, as well as at the racial and economic profiles of surrounding communities. They found that Black Americans were exposed to significantly more of the small pollution particles known as PM 2.5, which have been associated with lung disease, heart disease and premature death.

Most such sooty pollution comes from burning fossil fuels. Blacks were exposed to 1.54 times more of this form of pollution — particles no larger than 2.5 microns, that lodge in lung tissue — than the population at large. Poor people were exposed to 1.35 times more, and all non-whites to 1.28 times more, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health. “The new study from EPA researchers confirms that race, not poverty, is the strongest predictor of exposure to health-threatening particulate matter, especially for African Americans,” said Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy and administration of justice at Texas Southern University, who was not involved in the research. Bullard said the research is the latest in a “long list” of studies that show people of color, as well as poor communities, bear the brunt of the nation's pollution problem. “This study points to the need for equal protection and equal enforcement — rather than fewer regulations and dismantling of environmental laws,” Bullard said. The study found that non-Whites face higher exposure to particulate pollution than whites in all but four states and Washington, D.C. People of color living in Indiana and Alabama are exposed to roughly twice as much PM 2.5 pollution as White people.

The findings come on the heels of a 2017 study by the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force that found low-income, Black Americans are disproportionately exposed to toxis are pollution from the fossil fuel industry. For Erica Holloman, an environmental advocate working in southeast Newport News, Virginia, a primarily African-American community with elevated levels of asthma, heart disease and respiratory disease, the study findings were particularly troubling. “This is personal to me,” Holloman, co-chair of the scientific and technical advisory committee of the Southeast CARE Coalition, said. “This is my life.”