Why Latinos depend on the Environmental Protection Agency

The role of the Environmental Protection Agency, especially when it comes to the health and wellbeing of the Latino community, is extremely critical, according to a new report.

The report, “Why the EPA is Important for Latino Families,” was released by the Center for American Progress this week and highlighted during a March 23 conference call.

Speakers on the call say if conservative members of Congress have their way and curtail the work of the EPA, the results would be devastating. They note: Highly polluting industries will have more leeway to contaminate the environment, Americans will be at greater risks of contracting chronic illnesses and 40 years of progress in the health and environmental outcomes achieved by the EPA will be reversed.

“All air is not equal in the United States,” begins the report. It notes low-income and minority Americans tend to live and work in areas where they are disproportionately exposed to pollution that harms their health.

Latinos are a particularly vulnerable population: Two thirds of Latino families reside in areas that do not meet the federal government’s air quality standards. 66 percent of Latinos in the U.S. – 25.6 million – live in areas that do not meet such standards.

The average Latino population in the 10 most polluted U.S. cites is 33 percent.

Latinos are also three times as likely as whites to die from asthma. And Latino children are 60 percent more at risk than white children to have asthma attacks.

The role of the EPA has been a “thin green line” of defense between big polluters and public health since 1970, says the study. But that line is in danger of being erased. GOP lawmakers are using the budget deficit as an excuse to attack the EPA. Conservative members of Congress are leading efforts to defund and maybe even abolish the EPA.

“In a fiscal climate that forces government to cut spending, they are choosing to keep subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and tax breaks for the rich, but slash measures that protect their constituents from polluted air and water,” authors say.

“To interfere with the EPA’s authority on this matter is extremely dangerous to all of our health and most Latinos are at a greater risk because they are more exposed to pollution and tend to live in urban areas,” said Adrianna Quintero, director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, on the call. Air pollution over the years has negatively impacted families for generations and can cause serious illness and sometimes even death, she added.

Latinos tend to live and work near farmlands, factories, and power plants that produce high levels of pollution. As a result Latinos have a higher risk of suffering from asthma, lung cancer, and allergies among other chronic, often fatal diseases.

Nearly 88 percent of the nations farm workers are Latino, and they and their families are regularly exposed to harmful pesticides in both the air and water.

To make matters worse Latinos are less likely to be insured than other ethnic groups. Last year, 20 percent of uninsured adults used up all or most of their savings paying medical bills, and many families pay more than 10 percent of their total family income for out-of-pocket health care costs. Latinos stand a high chance of getting sick from pollution and being unable to afford treatment.

Unemployment among Latinos has risen dramatically to nearly 14 percent.

By drastically reducing the amount of harmful chemicals in the air, EPA-led enforcement has prevented millions of asthma attacks and thousands of respiratory and cardiovascular-related hospital admissions. The EPA has helped lower the rates of skin cancer and the agency’s pollution limits have avoided an estimated 400,000 premature deaths in the last 20 years, experts say.

Dirty air and water mean more visits to the emergency room, more missed days of work and school, and more cases of dangerous expensive health issues.

The EPA is also protecting millions from the threat of nuclear radiation and, given the recent tragic events in Japan, says the study, the world can ill afford any cuts in nuclear safety.

GOP arguments that clean air enforcement laws are a “job killer” are false, speakers on the call said.

The truth is that clean air laws produce real and measurable results that both grow the economy and create jobs, said Jorge Madrid, a research associate with the Center for American Progress and co-author of the report.

“Conservative politicians say we can’t afford the protections and regulations, but the bottom line is that the benefits far outweigh the costs,” said Madrid. “Strong regulations on pollution and air quality also help the U.S. become pioneers and innovators in lowering toxins across the planet.”

Photo: Pepe Lozano/PW


Pepe Lozano
Pepe Lozano

Chicagoan Pepe Lozano was a staff writer with the People's World through 2014. He comes from an activist family and has lived on the city's southwest side in a predominantly Mexican-American community his whole life. Lozano now works as a union organizer.