Against the backdrop of the current presidential administration’s all-out assault on environmental safeguards, particularly on curbing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Clean Air Task Force (CATF) and the National Medical Association (NMA) have released a first-ever report on the growing threats to the health of African-American communities across the country from airborne oil and gas pollution.
What they found: More than a million black people face an increased risk of cancer and asthma thanks to air pollution resulting from oil refineries or natural gas facilities in their backyards.
The study, titled Fumes Across the Fence-Line, quantifies the health risks, including cancer and respiratory illnesses, which are caused by emissions from the natural gas supply chain. These “fence-line” communities, or communities where oil and natural gas refineries are placed near the property lines or fences of African American and low-income people, are the focus of the groundbreaking study, providing data on the environmental racism that activists have been fighting for decades.
Key findings of the study are:
-Oil and natural gas facilities are built near or currently exist within a half-mile of over one million African Americans, exposing them to an elevated risk of cancer due to air toxic emissions;
-The oil and natural gas industries violate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air quality standards for ozone smog due to natural gas emissions in many African American communities, causing over 138,000 asthma attacks among school children and over 100,000 missed school days each year;
-There are 91 counties across the U.S. that are building oil refineries or where refineries exist close to more than 6.7 million African Americans, or 14 percent of the national population, disproportionately exposing them to toxic and hazardous emissions such as benzene, sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde.
“Energy companies often deny responsibility for the disproportionate impact of polluting facilities on lower-income communities and communities of color,” said Kathy Egland, NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Committee Board Chair. “It is claimed that in most cases the potentially toxic facilities were built first and communities knowingly developed around them. However, studies of such areas show that industrial polluting facilities and sites have frequently been built in transitional neighborhoods, where the demographics have shifted from wealthier white residents to lower-income people of color. Polluting facilities also reduce nearby property values, making them more affordable areas to live in for people who do not have the means to live elsewhere.”