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Members of Climate Justice Alliance at the People's Climate March in September 2014. (Photo: File/Rae Louise Breaux)

Members of Climate Justice Alliance at the People's Climate March in September 2014. (Photo: File/Rae Louise Breaux)

Low-Income, Latino Communities Across US Living in Air Pollution 'Sacrifice Zones'

New study adds to growing body of evidence that low-income communities of color are disproportionately impacted by ecological destruction

Sarah Lazare

In metropolitan areas across the continental United States, one in every three economically disadvantaged Latino immigrant neighborhoods is exposed to harmful, cancer-causing air pollution—emanating from refineries, factories, car exhaust, and more—a disturbing new academic study reveals.

Race, deprivation, and immigrant isolation: The spatial demography of air-toxic clusters in the continental United States was published online this week and is slated to run in the November issue of the journal Social Science Research.

Lead researcher Raoul Liévanos, an assistant professor of sociology at Washington State University, explained in a statement about the findings: "Neighborhoods comprised of nonwhite, economically disadvantaged people who do not speak English as a native language and are foreign-born are the most vulnerable to being near these toxic air emissions. This is particularly the case with Latino immigrants."

Liévanos conducted his research by mapping areas that have the greatest exposure to toxic air pollution, finding that a majority of "hotspots" are in California and the northeastern United States. He then employed a "statistical analysis of the racial, socioeconomic and immigrant status of 2,000 neighborhoods and their proximity to toxic hotspots," according to a summary of his research.

The study follows a recent poll conducted on behalf of the organizations Earthjustice and GreenLatinos, which found that 85 percent of Latinos believe "it is extremely important or very important to reduce smog and air pollution" and 66 percent say "global warming and climate change are mostly caused by human activities."

The research adds to a growing body of scholarship which shows that, across the board, communities of color in the United States are disproportionately likely to live in areas with dangerous proximity to toxic air pollution. For example, a University of Minnesota study published last year found that people of color in the United States suffer nearly 40 percent more exposure to toxic air pollution than their white counterparts.

In response to the disparate impact of ecological harm and climate change, the people living within so-called "sacrifice zones" in the U.S.—and across the global south—are levying demands for environmental justice in the lead up to the COP21 United Nations climate talks in Paris this November and December.

"Inadequate action and false solutions will result in extreme consequences for the planet that will have notably disproportionate impact on the peoples of the Global South, as well as working class communities, communities of color, and indigenous and marginalized peoples living on the frontlines of the escalating climate crisis," the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance declared in a recent petition.


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