Why African Americans Should Care About Clean Air

This post is courtesy of Care2 member Gina Carroll, from her blog Think Act Parent: A Call to Parents Seeking Excellence.

“At first glance, air pollution generally and power plant pollution specifically, would not seem to rank among the highest priorities for African-Americans. However, African-Americans are disproportionately affected by power plant emissions because we are concentrated in large urban centers, suffer higher rates of asthma and share a historical bond with the developing world where climate change threatens already weak and overburdened economies. From this perspective, power plant cleanup is elevated on the long list of social justice imperatives.”

– The Air of Injustice, a collaborative report from The Black Leadership Forum, The Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, The Georgia Coalition for The People’s Agenda, and Clear the Air.

Did you know that Black children have a:
- 260% higher emergency room visit rate;
- 250% higher hospitalization rate, and;
- 500% higher death rate from asthma, as compared with White children?

If coal-fired power plant pollution is a major concern for the general population, it is a critical issue for African Americans.

Coal-fired power plants produce 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants per year consisting of 84 different pollutants, including:
- Acid gases, such as hydrogen chloride and hydrogen flouride
- Benzene, toluene and other compounds
- Dioxins
- Formaldehyde
- Lead, arsenic, and other metals
- Mercury
- Radioactive materials, like radium and uranium

In addition, 68% of African Americans (compared to 56% of the white population) live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant — the distance within which the maximum effects of the smokestack plumes are expected to occur.

Infants who live in highly polluted cities during the first two months of life have a higher mortality rate. High particulate matter (pollution) levels markedly increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and repspiratory mortality. Since African Americans tend to live in polluted urban centers, this impacts them significantly.

These statements are frightening and should give every African American head-of-household pause. For all that we do to improve the lives of our children, how insidious is this quiet killer, that while we strive to improve our diets and the safety of our neighborhoods, the very air we are breathing is undermining our efforts. Legislators, unethical corporations and their lobbyists are deciding as a matter of policy that the human life nearest and most affected by these power plants are expendable and less important. And we, distracted by all of the other challenges that impact our day-to-day, allow decision makers to deprioritize our children.

In furtherance of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed rules that would regulate toxic air emissions — including mercury, lead, arsenic and acid gas pollution, from coal-fired power plants. The EPA’s proposed regulations will, for the first time, limit how much mercury or other toxic pollutants power plants can emit. This is an important move toward cleaning up the air and making our environment livable for everyone, especially African Americans.

From a public health perspective, what is good for our children is good for the entire country. Everyone loses when we allow companies to poison our air. From a social justice perspective, the disproportionate impact of power plants on the poor and people of color is a human rights matter and our response to it is an exercise in self-determination over victimization. Every person has a right to clean air and a healthy environment. Every human life is valuable.

I encourage you to read this fact sheet on the proposed EPA clean air rules and the Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act.

Sign the petition to support clean air standards.

Related Care2 Posts:
Clean Air is a Fundamental Right
The Congressional War on Clean Air and Climate Science
Clean Air Act Assaulted by Congress

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Carole R.
Carole R.4 years ago


Virginia J.
Virginia J.4 years ago

Cleaner air for us all,

Dianne Robertson
Dianne Robertson4 years ago

Clean air is a neccessity for LIFE.And the statistics on how African Americans in particular are affected ALSO affects ALL of us.My husband lived 56 years suffering from Cystic Fibrosis.I AM VERY concerned about how air quality affects PERSONS.Any one who feels HE needn't worry should ask the coal mine canary.

caterina caligiuri


Anja N.
Justin R.4 years ago

Strange headline.

Julimar C.
Julimar C.4 years ago

I think the point here is not that African Americans are the only ones who deserve clean air or who are hurt by pollution. The point is that this ethnic group, due to demographic variables among others, is at a higher risk of presenting with health problems due to pollution yet there is a general unawareness of the importance of these issues and caring for our environment overall. I agree with Latonya, this is about getting everyone involved.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

Maybe instead of a slow death by obsolescence, maybe someone should consider putting the coal miners out of business with hostile takeovers.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

Now that it is possible to generate electricity as cheaply with wind as with coal, it should take only long enough for existing coal-fired electric generating plants to reach the ends of their planned service life to replace them with wind turbines and the batteries and smart grid needed to integrate them into the grid. And solar electric power is cost-competitive with natural gas-fired peak power plants, and still coming down in price while the cost of natural gas is still going up. Substituting excise taxes on pollution emissions for non-tariff regulatory burden might help accelerate the process.

Carol Fyfewilson

We ALL need to be concerned and support each other to this end.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 4 years ago

Good article. Thanks for sharing.