Oil and Gas Industry Disproportionately Pollutes African American Communities: Report

New research suggests that African American communities are subject to more toxic air pollution from oil and gas industries than white communities, raising concerns about whether the disparities and long-term health consequences. 

More than 6.7 million African-American’s live near oil and gas refineries, exposing them to toxic fumes, and this is no coincidence, according to a new report titled “Fumes Across the Fence-Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Facilities on African American Communities”, which was co-authored by the Clean Air Task Force and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Energy industries disproportionately place refineries and other processing plants near minority communities. A number of court cases and industry documents throughout the years have found that this is done intentionally and knowingly because minority communities tend to have fewer resources to fight against the injustices of environmental pollution, compared to Caucasian communities.

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The report used data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Emissions Inventory and the National Air Toxics Assessment, which focuses on emissions and health risks for each county. The findings are similar to those of a 2014 study which found that minority neighborhoods are more often in the path of air pollution than white neighborhoods.

Overall, there are 91 counties across the country that are building oil refineries or have refineries which exist close to black communities. This affects more than 6.7 million African-Americans and disproportionately exposes them to toxic and hazardous emissions like benzene, sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde, substances with far reaching negative effects, including the risk of experiencing a premature death.

More than 1 million African-Americans live within a half-mile of oil and natural gas wells, processing plants, or storage facilities. In some states, at least 1 in 5 black residents are near plants that pollute the air.

The study’s authors found 40% of all people living in counties with oil or gas refineries in Michigan, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania are African American. About 54% are African-American in Tennessee.

Researchers also indicate that because of the disparities between African-American communities and Caucasian communities and pollution, approximately 13% of black children nationwide have asthma compared to 7% for white children.

Research published in 2016 linked drops in air pollution levels to fewer childhood respiratory problems. The study showed improving air quality may help alleviate symptoms like bronchitis, asthma, and wheezing.

African-Americans are 75% more likely than Caucasians to live in what the authors call “fence-line communities,” or communities next to commercial facilities that produce  noise, odor, traffic, or toxic emissions which impact the nearby population.

Studies have linked air pollution to increased rates of stillbirths and exposure before birth to emotional and behavior problems in children later. Another recent study indicated air pollution exposure before birth may cause children to prematurely age.


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