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In Tuscaloosa’s predominantly Black West End neighborhood, an oil refinery, a Michelin tire plant, and a train yard full of oil cars pollute the air with toxins. People in the area face a higher risk of a litany of health issues: high blood pressure, cancer, asthma, strokes. As E&E reports in an in-depth piece on Tuscaloosa, chronic illness and exposure to air pollution are exacerbating the spiking COVID rates and increasing the risks for people living in neighborhoods just outside the boundaries of industrial plants and refineries across the country. Race is often a compounding factor, and the pandemic this year continues to highlight the intersection of environmental policy, public health, and systemic racism. Senator Cory Booker said thatthe pandemic is a call to action across the spectrum of health and environmental inequities, calling it “a moral moment” in this country.
Why this Matters: Clean air should be a right, not a privilege. Across the country, communities of color face disproportionate local air pollution and higher COVID rates. That tragedy is playing out continually during this “dark” winter as the number of infections rises and deaths now exceed 300,000. According to the American Lung Association’s 2020 “State of the Air” report, people of color are 1.5 times more likely to live somewhere with poor air quality than white people, exposing communities to the pollution and health risks that come with it.No one should have to breathe the pollutants from the refineries like the one in Tuscaloosa, which can cause peripheral nerve damage, respiratory problems, and memory problems.
And even as climate change decreases air quality, the EPA has scaled back its government air quality monitors over the past five years, leaving community groups to fill in the gaps. The federal monitors provide the data that informs the Air Quality Index — that AQI number you see on your phone’s weather report. For people with respiratory issues, the number determines if it’s safe for them to be outdoors. “The public’s desire for pollution data is exploding, but the government has less resources,” Lyle Chinkin, an environmental scientist who has testified in Clean Air Act lawsuits, told Reuters.
To Go Deeper:Read the full E&E reporting on Tuscaloosa’s West End and the health, environmental and COVID problems its impoverished Black residents face.
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In the U.S., about 100,000 deaths occur each year due to exposure to ambient air pollution – before the COVID-19 pandemic, this represented about 1 in 25 deaths. Air pollution is a ruthless killer that can even harm the development of babies while they’re still in the womb. That’s why it was important that the […]
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