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
- Lead, arsenic, and other metals
- 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.
Sign the petition to support clean air standards.