LOS ANGELES, 11 APRIL 2012 .
Dear EarthTalk: How is it that Latino communities are among those
hardest hit by air pollution?
Miguel Aragones, Los Angeles, CA
Latinos are indeed among the U.S. ethnic groups hardest hit by air
pollution. A recent report from the National Latino Coalition on Climate
Change (NLCCC), Center for American Progress, National Resources Defense
Council and National Wildlife Federation found that Latinos face a
disproportionately large air pollution risk than even other minority
groups. According to the report, "U.S. Latinos and Air Pollution: A Call
to Action," Latinos face increased health care costs, more lost days at
school and work, and a shorter life expectancy due to increased exposure
to air pollution.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some
26.6 percent of U.S. Hispanics live in counties that violate the federal
governments 24-hour standards for fine particulate matter, the greatest
percentage of any ethnic group. Meanwhile, 48.4 percent of Hispanics live
in counties that frequently violated eight-hour ground-level ozone
According to the National Coalition of Hispanic Health & Human
Services Organizations (COSSMHO), 80 percent of U.S. Latinos (compared
with 65 percent of non-Hispanic U.S. blacks and 57 percent of non-Hispanic
U.S. whites) live in so-called "non-attainment" areas where ambient air
quality is worse than what the federal government considers safe.
"Although Hispanics in general live as long as or longer than non-Hispanic
whites, what morbidity data are available reveal that the quality of that
life is severely impaired by a variety of chronic conditions, such as
asthma," adds the coalition.
Meanwhile, another recent report from the League of United Latin
American Citizens (LULAC) found that seven out of 10 Hispanic Americans
face air pollution threats some 16 percent greater overall than the
overall U.S. population. "The increased exposure to air pollution makes
Latino families more vulnerable to health problems associated with air
pollutants such as low birth weight and asthma attacks," stated the
report. "Factors such as poverty, language barriers and lack of access to
health care increase the danger."
In June 2011, 14 Latino groups from California, Texas and other states
joined together to urge President Obama to bring permissible levels of
ground-level ozonea key component in the formation of smogdown to below
70 parts per billion. Under George W. Bush, the limit was lowered from 85
to 75 parts per billion, but environmentalists maintain that the limit
must be even lower to reduce respiratory and related illnesses in densely
populated, largely minority urban areas already hardest hit by
But in September 2011 the Obama administration cited economic concerns
in announcing that it would leave the ozone standard as is for now.
Lowering it further at this point, the White House argued, would cost
American businesses and the federal government billions to upgrade or
retrofit industrial facilities with pollution scrubbing equipment and
other technologies. The administration hinted it would revisit the topic
once the economy improves, but in the meantime those living in urban areas
with unsafe amounts of air pollution should check daily air quality
forecasts before going outside for extended periods. The federal
governments Airnow.gov website offers daily air quality reports across
300+ urban areas from coast-to-coast, and also provides links to more
detailed state and local air quality information sources.
CONTACTS: NLCCC, www.latinocoalitiononclimatechange.org;
LULAC, www.lulac.org; Airnow, www.airnow.gov.
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