People of Color Bear a Disproportionate Pollution Burden

By Emilia Benton

In 46 states, including Texas, people of color are far more impacted by the health effects of air pollution than white people and any other minority group, a new Environmental Protection Agency study found.

Here are three takeaways from the study:

The health disparities are significant

The study, published by the American Journal of Public Health, focused on tiny airborne particles, known as PM2.5. A variety of sources produce fine particles, and they include diesel engines, road grit, coal-fired power plants and oil refineries. Researchers have linked these particles to heart disease, stroke and respiratory problems, like asthma. The EPA study found exposure levels to be 1.54 times higher for African-Americans than white people. The study also reported exposure levels to be 1.2 times higher for Latinx people than white people.

Place matters

People of color, especially African-Americans, carry a disproportionate burden for air pollution. That is because they are more likely to live in lower-income neighborhoods with or near oil and gas facilities, and many cannot afford to relocate their families. A separate analysis showed recently that Texas has one of the largest populations of African-Americans living within a half-mile of oil and gas operations, increasing their exposure to harmful air toxics, such as cancer-causing benzene.

Robert Bullard, a Texas Southern University professor and leading figure in the environmental justice movement, told Buzzfeed News that the study’s findings highlight that these racial disparities exist, noting that research continues to show “unequal protection and unequal burden of pollution borne by poor people and people of color. 

We can do better

People of color and low incomes want their neighborhoods to be safe, healthy and affordable. As Houston plots a sustainable path forward after Hurricane Harvey, it must be a fair and just one, too.

“We strongly urge the city of Houston and Harris County to review the report’s findings and develop a plan for addressing these inequities in Houston,” said Bakeyah Nelson, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, one of our partners. “We have the opportunity to make better decisions in the future that can improve public health for communities of color.”

To help raise awareness of the public health threats from air pollution in neighborhoods with people of color and low incomes, please consider sharing your story with us. #OurAirOurHouston is an ongoing project by One Breath Partnership to amplify the voices of Houstonians affected by air pollution.

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.