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New Study Shows Environmental Racism and Economic Injustice in Health Burdens of Particulate Pollution in U.S.

WASHINGTON - A new study by scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published yesterday in the American Journal of Public Health found that facilities emitting dangerous particulate air pollution -- like soot -- disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color - demonstrating that the reprehensible history of economic injustice and environmental racism regarding air pollution continues in the United States.

In the report, historic racism and economic inequality were cited as major factors in the siting and development of facilities emitting particulate pollution for the disproportionate health impacts. The report’s goal is to evaluate the location of particulate matter emitting facilities and the characteristics of surrounding communities (income level, race, poverty rates, etc) most impacted by their pollution. Inhaling particulate matter can have a devastating impact on human health, including causing severe asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death.

After assessing particulate matter emissions from facilities in a nationwide study -- and the characteristics of the communities at the highest risk of health consequences due to exposure to it -- the study found that communities living below the poverty line have a 35 percent higher burden from particulate matter emissions than the overall population. Non-whites had a 28 percent higher health burden and African Americans, specifically, had a 54 percent higher burden than the overall population.

In response, Leslie Fields, Director of Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice Program, released the following statement:

“It’s a travesty that the most vulnerable communities in our country must endure the worst air pollution and its health effects while Trump’s EPA administrator jets around the country in a first class seat, meeting with and encouraging the fossil fuel billionaires responsible for that pollution. This report illustrates how people of color and people with limited means have been grossly taken advantage of by polluters who don’t care about the misery they cause.

“Locating polluting facilities in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color means that people with marginalized identities experience more asthma, a greater likelihood of heart attacks, even premature death. The disadvantages that come with those health issues, like missing school, create a cycle of poverty and lack of access to opportunity that spans generations and shapes every part of the experience of being a person of color or low-income person in the United States.

“To make matters worse, the Trump administration has even proposed to shutter the EPA’s environmental justice office and end programs that allow for communities to have input on how key clean air and clean energy policies are implemented - taking away vital tools to fixing the health disparities outlined in the report. This administration should be ashamed of this level of neglect toward people who need justice and must do more to protect them from greedy fossil fuel billionaires.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune released the following statement:

This report paints a clear picture of the devastating reality of environmental injustice and racism in our country. It is unacceptable that communities of color and low income communities must disproportionately face the sickening and life-threatening consequences of fossil fuel pollution. The status quo is clearly bad enough, yet the Trump administration is working hand-in-hand with corporate polluters to roll back many of the safeguards that could protect families, making a dangerous situation much, much worse.

“This report should be the wake up call that demands politicians act to ensure no community is left to suffer the worst consequences at the hands of corporate polluters, but the Trump Administration is likely to sleep through the alarm.”

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The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. It was founded on May 28, 1892 in San Francisco, California by the well-known conservationist and preservationist John Muir, who became its first president. The Sierra Club has hundreds of thousands of members in chapters located throughout the US, and is affiliated with Sierra Club Canada.

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