Why The EPA Is Important For Latino Families

The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has long protected the health and well-being of all Americans, particularly Latino families. Unfortunately, conservative politicians are leading efforts to attack, defund, and in some cases even abolish the EPA.

The American Lung Association warns that these attacks “ignore public health and will have dire consequences for all Americans.”  That’s why last month 4,500 doctors, health professionals, and scientists from all 50 states sent an open letter to political leaders urging them to uphold the EPA and clean air protections.

These attacks would put Latino families directly in harm’s way and only worsen already unhealthy conditions in their communities. Latino families should push back against conservative attempts to put their communities at risk. They should demand a strong EPA that can protect them from polluters and help ensure clean air and water for future generations.

Latinos are at risk

Latino families are disproportionately exposed to some of the most dangerous environmental hazards in their own communities. Consider that:

  • Sixty-six percent of U.S. Latinos live in areas that do not meet the federal government’s safe air quality standards.
  • Latinos are three times as likely as whites to die from asthma.
  • Latino children are 60 percent more likely to have asthma than white children.
  • The vast majority of our nation’s farm workers (88 percent) are Latino. They and their families are regularly exposed to harmful pesticides in both the air and water, leading to increased risks of cancer, birth defects, and neurological damage.
  • Many Latinos work outdoors. They are exposed to unsafe outdoor ozone levels and bad air quality that increase their risk for skin cancer and respiratory disease.

The following table illustrates the disproportionate risks Latinos face where they live. The data are from the American Lung Association’s report, “State of the Air 2010.” The report details the 25 most polluted U.S. cities as measured by unsafe levels of particulate pollution and ozone. Seven out of the 25 worst polluted U.S. cities have Latino populations over 40 percent. The average Latino population in the 10 worst polluted cities in the United States is 33 percent.

Source: American Lung Association (2011), US Census Bureau (2010 statistics)

The above health disparities are only worsened by U.S. Latinos’ lack of health care. They are least likely to be insured compared to all other ethnic groups in this country. This kind of vulnerability can be devastating as many uninsured families pay more than 10 percent of their total family income for out-of-pocket health care costs.

The EPA helps keep families healthy

EPA-led enforcement of clean air laws has prevented 1,700,000 asthma attacks, 22,000 respiratory-related hospital admissions, 42,000 prevented cardiovascular hospital visits, and 295 million incidents of skin cancer since the agency’s founding in 1970. Its clean air regulation has prevented 400,000 premature deaths in the last 20 years.

The health benefits are most dramatic for children. The percentage of U.S. children with elevated blood-lead levelshad dropped from 88.2 percent in the 1970s to 4.4 percent by 1995, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. EPA analysis shows that the first 20 years of clean air programs, from 1970 to 1990, prevented 10.4 million lost IQ points in children—mostly from reducing lead in gasoline—as well as preventing 18 million child respiratory illnesses.

Polls show all Americans demand clean air, especially Latinos

Americans and Latinos in particular display strong convictions to strengthen the EPA in recent polls.

A 2010 poll conducted by the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change, or NLCCC, found that the overwhelming majority of Latino voters in Florida (76 percent) and Nevada (74 percent), and about two out of three voters in Colorado (64 percent), consider global warming very or somewhat serious. Greenhouse gases, which are linked as a harmful pollutant and the source of global warming, are also regulated by the EPA.

A similar poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, or PPIC, found that 87 percent of Latino voters believe the government should regulate emissions. They are the most likely racial/ethnic group to express this view.  Finally, a 2010 poll by the University of Southern California found that 75 percent of Latinos said they worry a great deal about air pollution compared with 31 percent of whites.

Latinos should support the EPA

Conservatives would rather spend taxpayer dollars on subsidies for Big Oil and tax breaks for the rich than on measures that protect their constituents from polluted air and water.

Latinos will pay the price for these EPA cuts. They and their children will be exposed to elevated levels of risk and harm. Dirty air and water mean more visits to the emergency room, more missed days of work and school, and more cases of dangerous—and expensive—health issues.

Latino families should reject attempts to put their communities at risk and demand a strong EPA that can protect them from polluters and help ensure clean air and water for future generations.

Jorge Madrid is a Research Associate for the Energy Team at the Center for American Progress.  He is also on the board of directors for Voces Verdes and a former Graduate Fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.  Valeri Vasquez from CAP also contributed to article.

[Photo By A6U571N]

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