Social Justice Q&A

According to the EPA, environmental justice refers to the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Low-income and minority Americans tend to live and work in areas disproportionately exposed to pollution, therefore they suffer disproportionately from the effects of pollution.

Often, it is not only the disproportionate amount of pollution that negatively affects the health of low-income and minority Americans but the combination of that pollution layered on top of existing social disparities, such as access to healthcare.

The African American Community

Are African Americans more likely to live near pollution sources?

Yes. African Americans tend to live closer to some of the most harmful pollution sources. For example, 68% of African-Americans (compared to 56% of Whites) live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, the distance within which the maximum ill effects of smokestack emissions occur.

How many African Americans live in areas with unhealthy air?

African Americans are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air pollution. More than 72% of African Americans live in counties that violate federal air pollution standards, compared to 58% of Whites. (Source:

What about African Americans and asthma?

According to the Office of Minority Health:

  • From 2003-2005, African American children had a death rate 7 times that of non-Hispanic White children.
  • In 2010, almost 4,500,000 non-Hispanic Blacks reported that they currently have asthma.
  • 17% of all African American children are asthma sufferers.
  • In 2010, African Americans were 30% more likely to have asthma than non-Hispanic Whites.
  • In 2008, African Americans were three times more likely to die from asthma related causes than non-Hispanic Whites.
  • African Americans had asthma-related emergency room visits 4.5 times more often than Whites in 2004.
  • Black children have a 260% higher emergency department visit rate, a 250% higher hospitalization rate, and a 500% higher death rate from asthma, as compared with White children.

What about children who live in inner cities?

Children living in inner cities face unique challenges. 85% of inner-city children with asthma have uncontrolled symptoms.

These children have disproportionate exposure to allergens like dust mites and mold and local irritants such as secondhand smoke and air pollution, all of which are associated with development and worsening of asthma. (Source:


The Latino Community

Why are Latinos particularly vulnerable to air pollution?

Latinos are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because, like African Americans, they are more likely to live close to high levels of pollution. Whereas 58% of Whites live in areas that do not meet the federal government’s air quality standards, 66% of Hispanics live in such areas.

Latinos are three times as likely as whites to die from asthma; and Latino children are 60% more at risk than their white counterparts to have asthma attacks. Nearly one in four Hispanic and Puerto Rican kids living in poverty in the U.S. has been diagnosed with asthma, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What about Latinos and water pollution?

Latinos are also disproportionately exposed to water pollution and its resulting health hazards. One and a half million U.S. Latinos live in colonias (unincorporated communities with substandard housing) along the U.S.-Mexico border, where a lack of potable water and sewage treatment contributes to waterborne diseases such as giardiasis, hepatitis, and cholera.

More than one-third of U.S. Latinos live in Western states, where arsenic, industrial chemicals, and fertilizer residues often contaminate local drinking water supplies.

What about occupational exposures?

Occupational lung disease is the number one cause of work-related illness in the United States in terms of frequency, severity, and preventability. Hispanics are more likely to be employed in high-risk occupations (textile, building service, construction, farming, forestry, and fishing industries) than any other race or ethnic group.

Farmworkers have a special set of environmental health concerns, and Latinos are disproportionately affected. Nearly 88% of the nation’s farm workers are Latino. Therefore, to the extent that farmworkers are exposed to chemical pesticides, Latino farmworkers and their families bear the large portion of that burden. They and their families, who often reside close to or on the worksites, are routinely exposed to harmful pesticides in the air and water, leading to increased risk of cancer, birth defects, and neurological damage.

What about Latinos and health care?

Latinos are the most uninsured ethnic group of U.S. children. The reason for the lack of insurance in Latino children is usually due to their parent’s citizenship status and jobs that offer no insurance benefits, as well as low family income. This is a problem because families that are uninsured often don’t visit the doctor or undergo preventive checkups and lab tests, plus they are usually unable to cover their medical expenses. In 2003, 21% of Latino children were uninsured, compared with 7% of non-Latino white children and 15% of African American children.

What this means is that Latino children affected with asthma are less able to afford the costly treatments and medications necessary to control any attacks. This may underlie some of the health disparities, such as the fact that Hispanics are 30% more likely to visit the hospital for asthma, as compared to non-Hispanic Whites. (Source:



TOPICS: Social Justice