Attacks on Clean Air Protections Put Latinos in Danger

This blog was co-authored with Valerie Jaffee.

Across the country, millions of Americans suffer the health burdens of air pollution, from asthma to lung cancer to chronic bronchitis. Latinos find themselves among some of the most impacted communities, suffering greatly under the costs of health care, lost days of school, missed work days, and ultimately, lives lost, due to the life-threatening contaminants in our air.

In NRDC’s 2004 report, Hidden Danger: Environmental Health Threats in the Latino Community, we highlighted the impacts of air pollution on Latino communities and the reality that millions of Latinos live in areas that do not meet the federal government’s air quality standards.

Sadly, these numbers have not changed much over the past six years. Hispanic-Americans continue to live in large numbers in the geographic areas with the highest concentrations of air pollution, and intensely suffer the impacts of this pollution.

According to recent reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[1] and the American Lung Association[2]:

  • In 2006, 26.6% of Hispanics lived in counties that violated 24-hour standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – the greatest percentage of any ethnic group. (Source: CDC 2011)
  • That same year, 48.4% of Hispanics lived in counties that frequently violated 8-hour ground-level ozone standards. (Source: CDC 2011)
  • As of 2008, 4.7 million Hispanics had been diagnosed with asthma in their lifetime. (Source: ALA 2010)

Scientists have known for decades that particulate matter and ozone, along with other air pollutants, are associated with acute and chronic health problems, including premature death, lung cancer, exacerbation of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, lung inflammation, asthma, bronchitis, and increased risk for cardiovascular morbidity.

As serious as these impacts are, these exposure numbers don’t reflect all the impacts that stem from air pollution.

Taking days off from work to care for yourself or family members suffering from respiratory problems like asthma attacks or bronchitis translates to days of pay lost. Missed school days set our children behind in school. And high healthcare costs weigh heavily on many Americans who are uninsured or under-insured and already struggling with the economic downturn. Latinos are hit especially hard by unexpected healthcare costs—according to the CDC, approximately two of every five Hispanics were classified as uninsured in both 2004 and 2008.

Since 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has protected public health by setting and enforcing standards to protect the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. Currently, however, some members of Congress, backed by the nation’s biggest polluters, are seeking to stop the EPA from protecting public health, by rolling back existing laws like the Clean Air Act and blocking needed clean air protections.

The EPA must be allowed to protect our health and our families by improving standards to address mercury, arsenic, carbon dioxide and other life-threatening pollution in our air. Updating these rules will prevent tens of thousands of deaths each year from respiratory diseases, heart attacks and other illnesses. Congress should stand up for our clean air and the health of our families, not the profits of big corporate polluters.


[1] Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities report – United States, 2011,” January 2011.

[2] American Lung Association, “Trends in Asthma Morbidity and Mortality,” February 2010.