WASHINGTON - June 29 - The Sierra Club today released its first-ever Latino Communities at Risk Report and a companion Spanish-language television ad to detail the cumulative impact of harmful Bush administration environmental policies on Hispanic communities. The report looks behind the policy and the numbers to tell the stories of 12 individuals and families throughout the country who are dealing with environmental health problems such as asthma and air pollution, farm worker exposure to pesticides, and childhood mercury and lead poisoning.
The Sierra Club's first national Spanish-language television ad features Latinos affected by asthma in Philadelphia, PA, methyl bromide pesticide use in Salinas, CA, and mercury poisoning in St. Petersburg, FL. The ad was produced by Haddow Communications and Javier Sierra.
"While Americans are diverted by war and millions of job losses, the Bush administration is quietly stripping protections from our air, water and lands, seriously threatening our health and heritage and putting Latino communities at risk," said Robbie Cox, Sierra Club board member and former president.
Scientific studies have shown that Hispanic communities, many located in the most polluted areas of cities and agricultural regions, are disproportionately affected by industry and pollution. Following are highlights from stories contained in the report:
-Asthma Linked to Air Pollution - The report features four stories of families in Las Vegas, NV; Fresno, CA; Milwaukee, WI; and Philadelphia, PA who are suffering from asthma linked to air pollution. Asthma mortality rates are higher than average in the Hispanic community, and asthma attacks are the leading cause of school absence. Nonetheless, the Bush administration has weakened Clean Air Act protections, which will likely increase asthma-related air pollution.
-Exposure to Toxic Chemicals - The EPA announced last week that industries released 5 percent more toxic chemicals in 2002 than the year before. This increase is alarming because exposure to dangerous chemicals like mercury and lead is especially dangerous to children and infants, while other chemicals pose threats to workers.
-Pesticides - Farm workers throughout the country face serious health problems from exposure to the pesticide methyl bromide, which was slated under the Montreal Protocol to be zeroed out by 2005. The Bush administration once again undermined an international treaty when it won exemptions this year that will allow continued use of methyl bromide. Jorge Fernández and Guillermo Ruiz of Salinas, California tell their story of their exposure and illness.
-Mercury - Mercury releases increased by 10 percent in 2002 compared to the previous year. Zeida Santana, a St. Petersburg, Florida mother and biologist, won't feed her children fish because of EPA warnings about mercury contamination. Despite these warnings, the Bush administration is proposing a change to the Clean Air Act that would permit polluters to emit more mercury for at least a decade longer than the current law allows. The mercury comes from power plants, rains into the water, and accumulates in fish, making them dangerous to eat. The Spanish-speaking population is at greater risk than the general population because, according to a Latino Issues Forum study, the less English a person knows, the less likely he or she is to learn about food and health warnings.
-Lead - The Centers for Disease Control was slated to consider stronger standards for lead poisoning, but has taken no action since the Bush administration appointed people with direct ties to the lead industry to oversee regulatory action. Stronger regulations would have helped María Nolasco of Brooklyn, NY, in her fight for a citywide lead law that would save other children from the same fate as her three grandchildren, who all suffer from lead paint poisoning.
-On the Job - Whether it's in the fields or in the slaughterhouses, a recent study showed that Hispanic workers are more likely to die on the job due to lack of health and safety protections.
-Slaughter Houses - Workers in these facilities are plagued with injuries and then are often let go without workman's compensation. Unions are trying to help, and in the case of world's largest slaughterhouse, in North Carolina, Bush administration appointees have failed to implement a Clinton-era decision that would require a free and fair vote to decide whether to form a union.
-Loss of land and a livelihood - The Bush administration is responsible for removing protections from lands that total the combined size of Texas and Oklahoma, resulting in a greater net loss of protected lands than any administration in history.
-Oil and Gas Drilling -- In New Mexico, ranchers like Chris Velasquez have locked their gates to oil and gas developers who have rights to oil and gas located under private land. The Bush administration now wants to permit nearly 12,500 new wells on public and private lands over the next twenty years.
-Endangered Species -- In Puerto Rico, pristine coastline is under threat from development. Local residents, already lacking water, and local fisherman, like Miguel Davila, fear that their livelihoods are at risk. The endangered leatherback turtle, which nests in this area, is languishing while the Bush administration refuses to protect critical habitat for this endangered species.
"Every community, every person deserves environmental protection," said Alejandro Queral, Sierra Club advisor to the Environmental Partnerships program. "The Bush administration should strictly enforce existing environmental laws, and use modern technology to protect all of our communities so that our kids have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe."
Communities featured in the report include: Tucson, AZ; Fresno, CA; Salinas, CA; St. Petersburg, FL: Philadelphia, PA: Blanco, NM; New York, NY; Raleigh, NC; Las Vegas, NV; Milwaukee, WI; Fajardo, PR; and Reynosa, Mexico.
To see the report online or view the companion Spanish-language television ad, please visit our website: www.sierraclub.org/comunidades