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More than one million African-Americans are exposed to serious health threats, including risk of cancer, because of toxic air pollution sweeping through Black communities across the nation.

According to a landmark study released Tuesday by The NAACP, The Clean Air Task Force and The National Medical Association, more than one million African-Americans live in areas where toxic air pollution from natural gas facilities is so high that the risk of cancer exceeds the federal government’s level of concern.

The new study, “Fumes Across the Fence-Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Facilities on African American Communities,” says African-American kids are also seriously at risk: Black children are suffering from asthma and other respiratory problems at an alarming rate because of smog caused by life-threatening pollutants in their neighborhoods.

“Air pollution is affecting communities across the country and African-American communities are particularly impacted,” according to the study.

Consider this: Black students across the country, the study says, are missing 100,000 school days each year and experiencing 138,000 asthma attacks each year due to toxic fumes blowing into their front yards.

Scores of African-Americans, the study says, live within a half mile of an oil and gas facility where the industry dumps nine million tons of methane and toxic pollutants like benzene into the air each year.

Sadly, this is no coincidence.

“The life-threatening burdens placed on communities of color near oil and gas facilities are the result of systemic oppression perpetuated by the traditional energy industry, which exposes communities to health, economic, and social hazards,” according to the study.

The NAACP’s report is deeply troubling and the problem should be investigated by the U.S. Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Here are several key findings from the study:

  • 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 and sulfur dioxide.

NAACP officials say reckless corporations are intentionally polluting the air in poor black communities.

“Energy companies often deny responsibility for the disproportionate impact of polluting facilities on lower-income communities and communities of color,” Kathy Egland, NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Committee Board Chair, said in a statement.

“It is claimed that in most cases the potentially toxic facilities were built first and communities knowingly developed around them,” Egland said. “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.”

I believe this is nothing short of criminal.

The study says that higher poverty levels increase these health threats from air pollution, which means a heavier burden in placed translating into a more severe health burden on African-American communities.

The largest African-American populations living in areas with cancer risk above EPA’s level of concern are found in Texas and Louisiana, with close to 900,000 individuals at risk, the study says.

African-American children in Chicago, Washington, DC, New York City, Ohio, California, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma each face thousands of asthma attacks each year due to oil and gas pollution.

“The effects of oil and gas pollution are disproportionately afflicting African-Americans, particularly cancer and respiratory issues, and the trend is only increasing,” Dr. Doris Browne, President of the National Medical Association, said in a statement. “Our membership is seeing far too many patients in communities of color suffering from these diseases. It is our goal to fight to reverse this dangerous trend.”

The NAACP and The National Medical Association should be commended for exposing this health crisis and now the Black community needs action: The U.S. Congress should investigate and enact legislation that prevents energy companies from systematically poisoning the air that far too many African-Americans breathe every day.

What do you think?

PHOTO: ThinkStock

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