Air Pollution Patterns in the U.S. Are Racist, Disproportionately Poisoning Communities of Color

Air goes everywhere. So on the surface, it might seem logical to assume that air pollution would be similarly indiscriminate -- diffusing around and affecting everyone in a general area roughly the same. But that couldn't be further from the truth. As it turns out, air pollution carries the toxic stain of racism with it.

And through decades of federal policy enforcing discrimination, American towns and cities have literally segregated pollution so that it primarily lives in -- and poisons -- communities of color.

Sign the petition to demand reparations for these communities and federal clean-up of polluted, segregated neighborhoods!

This is largely due to a practice called "redlining," which describes decades of federal housing policies - policies that explicitly and intentionally discriminated against Black and Latinx Americans and immigrants. A now-defunct government agency called the Home Owners' Loan Corporation literally shaded areas of maps red when there were high proportions of immigrants and African-Americans, and made it difficult if not impossible for people of color to secure mortgages to buy homes. This type of racial discrimination labeled neighborhoods with Black and brown residents "undesirable" and ushered in generations of poverty.

It also pushed people of color and polluting industries closer and closer together. Zoning officials used areas around those same segregated neighborhoods as prime locations for major polluting plants. Black and brown Americans were literally segregated into pollution -- specifically, into areas contaminated with dirty air. And those impacts have lasted for generations since.

Recent research shows that these redlining housing policies have pushed approximately 45 million Americans into more densely polluted areas than their primarily whiter and wealthier counterparts. The air is foul with smog from vehicles, coal plants, and more. This has caused huge health implications, including asthma, heart attacks, strokes -- and increased susceptibility to COVID-19. Not only adults are affected; small children are impacted, too, and the detrimental effects on kids' health can even start in infancy.

According to Joshua Apte, an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley, "If you just look at the number of people that get killed by air pollution, it's arguably the most important environmental health issue in the country."

"This groundbreaking study builds on the solid empirical evidence that systemic racism is killing and making people of color sick, it's just that simple," summarizes Robert D. Bullard, a distinguished professor at Texas Southern University.

What happens in the past affects the future. And the past in the U.S. includes racism that has pushed families and whole communities of color into the thick of polluted smog, poisoning their children, their elders, and their neighbors. 

It's up to the U.S. government to begin the work to right this wrong that it created. Sign the petition to demand that the U.S. government begin an immediate and thorough project to clean up the pollution in segregated, formerly redlined neighborhoods! Children must be able to breathe clean air, everywhere.
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