Damn! Even Pollution in America is Racist

Charles D. Ellison just published a great piece for The Root.

Racism in the Air You Breathe: When Where You Live Determines How Fast You Die

More African Americans will die from environmental causes than from police brutality this year, yet there is no movement to stop the environmental racism that invades our neighborhoods and homes.

Two homes in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., Feb. 27, 2014  SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Two homes in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., Feb. 27, 2014

Ellison writes:

If you could maintain a daily graphic of deaths caused by environmental racism, you’d end up finding far more black people dying from pollution than from racist cops. “Many people don’t see pollution and climate change as an immediate threat,” Green for All National Director Vien Truongexplains to The Root. “People of color tend to live closer to sources of pollution, from coal plants to busy roads and highways. Our kids suffer higher rates of pollution-related illnesses: One in six black kids and one in nine Latino kids struggle with asthma. In California, twice as many people are now dying from traffic-related pollution than traffic-related accidents. These are environmental problems.”

Reading Ellison’s piece reminded me of a study I read about last fall. Writing for Alternet, Lynn Stewart Parramore reveals Shocking: New Research Shows Pollution Inequality in America Even Worse Than Income Inequality

If you are poor or non-white, inequality is in the air you breathe.


Over on the Climate Stew program I talk about this report and make further connections.

(Transcript) According to one new study, people of color in the USA inherit a host of health problems because of exposure to excessive levels of pollution. This leads to more sick days at school and work. Turns out America’s pollution inequality is even worse than economic inequality.

A new study took a look at the differences of exposure to industrial air pollution among poor and non-poor Americans as well as whites and non-whites. The lead researcher, James K. Boyce, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst expected to find a disparity based on class and even race but was shocked at how big of a difference they uncovered in the nationwide study. The poor and people of color, poor or not, are sucking in far worse air in most congressional districts than richer and whiter citizens throughout the USA.

As a result, these poor folks and people of color, poor or not, experience more illness, which leads to missing work and school, more medical bills, and lower property values in their neighborhoods.

In an interview with Alternet, Dr. Boyce talked about the data and how to change the inequity. He points to the successes of the environmental justice movements started in the 1980s by people of color in Harlem and elsewhere. Environmental Justice groups have raised awareness and pressed government officials to act. Boyce suggests more of this type of activism and organizing is needed.

What are the Three US states with the highest pollution inequity ratings? — Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. See our show notes for links to the interview, the study, and ratings by Congressional district.