If you’re a Hispanic child living in the United States, you may be working just as hard to breathe as to learn your ABCs. If you’re a Hispanic parent, you may be worried about how to protect your family from devastating hurricanes, floods, and fires. And if you’re a Hispanic voter, you may increasingly be casting your ballot for candidates who will legislate to reduce air and water pollution, stop climate change, and limit exposure to toxic chemicals that increase the risk of cancer.
Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. But it is also the perfect time to acknowledge the threats Hispanics face from pollution and the climate crisis.
Our EcoMadres program recognizes significant threats: 68% of Latinos in the US live in areas that do not meet federal air quality standards. Latino children are 60% more at risk of having asthma attacks exacerbated by air pollution. Almost 2 million Latinos live within one half mile of existing oil and gas facilities. In fact, Latinos are three times more likely to be negatively affected by air pollution because of where they live and work.
Latino children represent one of every six children in the US. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is concerned because “Latino children incur disproportionate exposures to air pollutants, pesticides, and toxic industrial chemicals… Latino children also have higher rates of asthma, lead and mercury poisoning, behavioral and developmental disorders, and certain cancers.”
At the same time, “exposure to multiple pollutants, pre-existing disease, poor nutrition, substandard housing, limited access to health care, and other factors related to their lower socioeconomic status increase Latino children’s susceptibility to environmental contaminants.” Those contaminants include pesticides, lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), many of which are related to not only childhood illnesses but developmental disabilities as well.
Hispanic parents experience a form of “double jeopardy.” They’re not only living under the same treacherous and polluting conditions as their kids, but many are farmworkers who toil in fields that may be doused with toxic pesticides. The extreme heat associated with soaring global temperatures puts farmworkers at risk too. Heat “can and does kill” farmworkers, United Farm Workers’ Elizabeth Strater told TheCounter.com. Because the people who pick fruits and vegetables are often paid for each piece they pick, they have no incentive to slow down or take a break in the shade. Even when temperatures hit 108 degrees Fahrenheit, as they have started to do in California’s Central Valley, where so much food is grown, produce still needs to be harvested. Not having access to clean water also puts farmworkers at risk, not only of dehydration but of kidney disease as well.
With so much at stake, perhaps it’s no wonder that, according to a Pew Research poll, Hispanics are more likely than whites to both attribute global warming to human activity and to support measures to protect the environment. This concern could lead to greater support for candidates and policies that will protect the environment and human health, notes the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
EDF also points out that “the green economy provides significant opportunities for Latinos,” citing a National Council of La Raza report indicating that 87% of Latinos surveyed said they would prefer to work in a clean energy industry than at a fossil fuel company or an oil refinery, assuming equal wages and benefits.
In a statement issued for Hispanic Heritage Month celebrating Latino leadership on the environment, Adrianna Quintero, Executive Director of Voces Verges (Green Voices) said, “Latinos hold strong environmental and conservation values and have a long-standing cultural heritage of environmental stewardship. That’s why for decades polling has shown Latinos as the demographic group most committed to protecting our communities and our planet from challenges like climate change and air and water pollution.
“We must continue to elevate and celebrate this leadership not only during Hispanic Heritage Month but daily as we advocate for stronger protections for our families, as we fight for significant and urgent action on climate change, as we call for a transition away from fossil fuels and transition into a clean energy economy where opportunities for better lives for Latino families are at hand.
“This month and beyond, we must continue to make our Voces heard and let our values guide us as we flex our muscle and call for the changes we deserve and need to build and leave a brighter more sustainable future for our future generations.”