Why Are Black Communities Disproportionately Effected By Air Pollution?

Systematic oppression comes in many forms, not just the usual job discrimination and lower wages most people hear about. There are more dangerous forms of oppression; such as environmental racism.

It is not a coincidence that so many black communities are located in close proximity to power plants or near oil refineries. Large corporations have a long history of preying on poorer communities because of the lack of political power they hold.

A new study released Tuesday by the advocacy group Clean Air Task Force (CATF) and the NAACP reported that African-Americans are disproportionately affected by health problems associated with air pollution from oil refineries.

According to the study, more than 1 million African-Americans live within half a mile from an oil and gas refinery, while roughly 14% of the black population lives in a county with an oil operation. Considering the fact that black Americans make up only about 14% of the U.S population shows that black communities have a higher risk of being impacted by pollution-related health conditions versus other racial groups and according to the study that number is growing each year.

For example, Houston and Dallas have the highest risk of childhood asthma-related to ozone smog; a by-product of oil and gas facilities. Texas, Ohio, California, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma have the largest share of African-American citizens living within areas the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers high-risk zones. These are areas within half a mile of active oil processing plants.
The study also expressed concern for black communities as far away as Chicago, D.C., and New York City that are affected by the pollution of oil refineries carried by the wind. Black communities are more apt to be exposed to toxins in the air like benzene, sulfur dioxide, and formaldehyde; which have all been linked to elevated risks of cancer, asthma, and endocrine-disrupting illnesses.  African American children were reported to have been affected by 138,000 asthma attacks resulting in 101,000 lost school days each year.

Another 2017 study by the American Lung Association reported that in 2015 people in Baltimore experienced 89 days of elevated smog, and on 20 of those days it was at unhealthy levels, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, and other adverse health impacts. African Americans account for 63 % of Baltimore's population.

Get involved in the fight to rid populated areas of hazardous oil facilities. To find out if your community is located near oil and gas facilities go to and visit to learn how you can join organizations fighting for a healthier environment. Read the full report titled Fumes Across the Fence-Line.

1 comment:

  1. This is very interesting. I would be interested to know if white people living in those same regions experience similar effects. I can say I grew up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I was born in Richardson, TX and moved all around the D/FW area for all of my childhood. And while I did not suffer from such illnesses, my younger brother was diagnosed with asthma. I guess what I would like to better understand is whether or not the results on African Americans is strictly linked to the locations and proximity or whether it is also attributable to inherent biologically linked factors as well.

    One could make the case of "environmental racism" but if white people are living in the same areas and are not affected as severely as black people in the same areas, the it would appear additional factors are at play as well.

    This is not to discount the reality external causalities should not be discounted. What's unhealthy for some is generally unhealthy for all. It's just that to better understand the problems, we need to understand the whole thing.

    It is racism if it's a problem which goes ignored simply because it's "only black people" affected. No question. But if it's "mostly black people" affected then the area of blame becomes a bit more grey.

    It's difficult for me to imagine a disparate impact from pollution which somehow manages to localize itself to streets and neighborhoods. But it's less difficult to understand a disparate impact on people with differences in biological details.

    Once again, obviously cleaners is better for all. None could argue against that. But focusing in on the factors which mostly affect black people but in pollution content specifically and in factors internally, could serve to make reduction in pollution easier and cheaper too!

    Think about it. If we knew more about the details at play, the regulations and methods could be far more simplified in terms of the specific environmental factors. Filtering ALL things is far more expensive than filtering only the ones which have the most impact on people. I hate to use expressions like "canaries in a coal mine" but this feels very much like that. If the more specific biological sensitivities and vulnerabilities are better understood, then environmental regulation could also be better understood and address in a far more cost-effective manner. The result could be an effective way to address "environmental racism" with more precision environmentalism.