A new analysis has found that air pollution from oil and gas facilities is placing more than one million African Americans at elevated risk for developing asthma and cancer.
The report, titled Fumes Across the Fence Line, released by the NAACP in partnership with the National Medical Association and the Clear Air Task Force, analyzes how Black communities who reside near industrial activity are impacted by air pollution.
According to the report, more than one million African Americans live within a half mile of existing gas facilities which exposes them to an elevated risk of cancer due to toxic air emissions from natural gas development.
Dr. Doris Browne, the president of the National Medical Association, an organization that advocates for African American physicians, said African American families who reside in these areas are disproportionately exposed to chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzene which contribute to respiratory diseases such as asthma. The report said as result of ozone increases due to natural gas emissions African American children are burdened by 138,000 asthma attacks and 101,000 lost school days each year.
One community highlighted in the report is South Philadelphia, which shares a neighborhood with Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the largest fossil fuel refinery on the East Coast. The report notes that the refinery is responsible for 72 percent of the toxic air emissions in Philadelphia. Toxins released from the refinery include ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, benzene and sulfuric acid, which cause effects ranging from headaches to cancer.
The report noted that Pennsylvania is one of 10 states that have the largest share of African Americans who live in close proximity to these facilities.
Nationally, the study found, African Americans are 75 percent more likely than Caucasians to live in communities next to commercial facilities whose noise, odor, traffic or emissions directly affect the population.
“We’re really leaning on the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to take some actions in terms of making some rules that are going to give us cleaner air and control over these areas,” Browne stated.
“Given the current appointees to EPA, it’s not likely that we are going to see enforcement of standards that have previously been set. We have the risk of greater exposure and we need to make sure that our communities are aware of this and that they are going to lean on their congressional representatives to be more responsive and to lean on the EPA to enforce stricter rules.”
The report comes as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks to repeal the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan is the first national policy to cut carbon pollution from U.S. power plants. According to estimates by the Trump administration, the policy would save up to 4,500 lives a year by 2030.
The EPA will hold a public hearing on the proposed repeal Tuesday and Wednesday in Charleston, W. Va.
Ahead of the EPA hearing, health, business, and environmental justice leaders decried the proposed repeal during a press call on Monday afternoon.
“Simply put, revoking the Clean Power Plan gives power plants a license to pollute, devastating families whose loved ones will lose their battle with air pollution that could have been avoided,” said Lyndsay Moseley Alexander, assistant vice president and director of the Healthy Air Campaign, American Lung Association.
“We urge EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt not to turn a blind eye to the millions of vulnerable Americans who would benefit the most from the Clean Power Plans safeguards including children with asthma, older adults, those with lung and heart disease as well as those living in poverty. We urge the EPA to withdraw this dangerous proposal.”
Mustafa Ali, the senior vice president of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization, Hip Hop Caucus, spoke about the adverse impact rolling back the Clean Power Plan would have on vulnerable communities. He said about 25 million people in the country have asthma and the condition impacts two and half million African Americans and more than two million Latinos.
“By placing this pollution into the air we know that we are hurting these communities,” Ali said.
“We are taking away their opportunities to be able to move forward.”
He said repealing the Clean Power Plan could cause vulnerable communities to be disproportionately impacted by the economic opportunities that are taken away because the country will no longer be moving forward with a 21st century clean energy paradigm.