NAACP Report: Blacks at Risk for Pollution-Related Health Issues

Fumes Across the Fence-Line

by: Lenore T. Adkins Special to the AFRO
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A new study shows that the location of gas and oil refineries and their resulting pollutants are poisoning African-American communities at a disproportionate rate.

The study, coauthored by the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force, determined that oil and natural gas facilities are built near or exist within a half-mile of more than 1 million African Americans, exposing them to a higher risk of cancer from toxins emitted by those facilities.

The largest Black populations facing the risk of cancer above the Environmental Protection Agency’s level of concern are in Texas and Louisiana. In those states, nearly 900,000 people are at risk. Houston and Dallas house some of the largest African-American populations that are in danger of childhood asthma attacks from ozone smog that comes from oil and gas facilities there.

But because pollutants can drift for hundreds or even thousands of miles before they turn into smog, African-American neighborhoods as far away as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City all faces thousands of asthma attacks from oil and gas pollution.

Moreover, the report determined that three states — Texas, Ohio and California — as well as Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma have the largest number of Black people living in the “threat zone.”

“The effects of oil and gas pollution are disproportionately afflicting African Americans, particularly cancer and respiratory issues, and the trend is only increasing,” said Dr. Doris Browne, president of the National Medical Association, which supported the study. “Our membership is seeing far too many patients in communities of color suffering from these diseases. It is our goal to fight to reverse this dangerous trend.”

The oil and natural gas industries violate the EPA’s air quality standards for ozone smog, because of the natural gas emissions in many African-American communities, the report purports. Those emissions cause more than 138,000 asthma attacks among school children and more than 100,000 missed days every year.

The report went on to conclude that 91 counties across the U.S. are building oil refineries and that existing refineries are in proximity to more than 6.7 million African Americans, or 14 percent of the national population. That disproportionately exposes them to toxic and hazardous air laden with benzene, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde and other poisonous chemicals.

In a statement, Kathy Egland, NAACP’s environmental and climate justice committee board chair, said the report further proves that environmental racism exists.

“It is claimed that in most cases the potentially toxic facilities were built first and communities knowingly developed around them,” she said. “However, studies of such areas show that industrial polluting facilities and sites have frequently been built in transitional neighborhoods, where the demographics have shifted from wealthier white residents to lower-income people of color. Polluting facilities also reduce nearby property values, making them more affordable areas to live in for people who do not have the means to live elsewhere.”  

The study is called “Fumes Across the Fence-Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Facilities on African American Communities.” You can view it online here (http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Fumes-Across-the-Fence-Line_NAACP_CATF.pd).

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