African-Americans at higher risk for pollution-related health problems, report shows

African-Americans face a disproportionate risk of health problems caused by air pollution because of the location of oil and gas operations, a new study found.

The study by the Clean Air Task Force and the NAACP found that 6.7 million African-Americans reside in a county with a refinery, with more than 1 million living within a half-mile of an oil and gas facility.

The largest populations of African-Americans living in high-risk areas are in Texas and Louisiana. Those living in Houston and Dallas face the highest risk of childhood asthma attacks caused by ground-level ozone, or smog, which can form when pollutants from oil and gas operations, among other sources, react with other chemical compounds in sunlight.

The study also found that Texas has one of the largest populations of African-Americans living within a half-mile of active oil and gas wells and processing plants. These communities are especially at risk of the harmful effects of air toxics like benzene, which leads to higher risks of cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems.

The key reason why African-Americans face a disproportionate risk of pollution-related health problems? These oil and gas facilities are located in or near low-income communities where residents are primarily people of color. U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat, and other officials have called this “environmental racism” because these residents often are not physically or financially able to relocate their families.

Air Alliance Houston is continuously working to raise awareness of the public health threats related to air pollution in low-income neighborhoods and communities of people of color. We strongly urge the EPA and TCEQ to use this data to prioritize public health in these areas and work toward bringing these communities closer to environmental equality.

“It is clear from the report’s findings that the legacy of separate and unequal communities lives on today,” said Bakeyah Nelson, executive director, Air Alliance Houston. “Fairness and equity should be the foundation upon which Houston rebuilds after Harvey to ensure a healthy future for all. We strongly urge the City of Houston and Harris County to review the report’s findings and develop a plan for addressing these inequities.”