Report: African American Communities Are Disproportionately Affected By Oil And Gas Industry Pollution

A joint report titled Fumes Across the Fence-Line from the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is considered the first to quantify the elevated health risk that millions of African Americans are facing due to pollution from oil and gas facilities.

Here are a few key findings, among many others:

1. More than 1 million African Americans live within a half mile of existing natural gas facilities and the number is growing every year.

2. As a result, many African American communities face an elevated risk of cancer due to toxic air emissions from natural gas development. Over 1 million African Americans live in counties that face a cancer risk above EPA's level of concern from toxics emitted by natural gas facilities.

3. The air in many African American communities violates air quality standards for ozone smog. Rates of asthma are relatively high in African American communities and, as a result of ozone increases due to natural gas emissions during the summer ozone seasons, African American children are burdened by 138,000 asthma attacks and 101,000 lost school days each year.

4. More than 6.7 million African Americans live in the 91 counties with oil refineries.

The most vulnerable against the most powerful

Environmental justice leaders have long believed that the areas surrounding low-income communities are often considered the highest-value locations for oil and gas industries to set up particular operations.

This is especially true in low-income communities of color, where generations of ongoing systemic oppression stifles community development and can lead to what is referred to as environmental racism—socially marginalized racial minority communities being disproportionately impacted by environmental toxins and pollutants.

As the report’s authors state, “the racial disparities among communities impacted by environmental pollution in the United States are stark.”

“African Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than Caucasian Americans, and they are 75 percent more likely to live in fence-line communities than the average American. Fence-line communities are communities that are next to a company, industrial, or service facility and are directly affected in some way by the facility’s operation (e.g. noise, odor, traffic, and chemical emissions).”

Ways forward

The report’s authors highlight the need for four particular strategies to all work in unison in order to address the immense challenges faced by these fence-line African American communities:

1. We must all learn about the oil and gas facilities that are located in our communities, and advocate for their decommissioning or removal (go to www.oilandgasthreatmap.com to learn more about the oil and gas facilities that are located in your community).

2. We must support technology that cuts air pollution. Many proven, low-cost technologies and practices are available to reduce methane pollution and the toxic chemicals released along with it.

3. We must urge national leaders to address the pollution from the oil and gas sector. Defending the methane pollution safeguards finalized during the Obama administration and pushing for additional protections against pollution from the oil and gas industry will help improve the health of many African American communities while also addressing global climate change.

4. We must urge our states to reduce oil and gas air pollution. Several states have stepped up to work on cleaning up the existing infrastructure within their borders, including California, Colorado, and Wyoming, and the report’s authors are calling on additional states to follow their lead and protect the health of communities (visit www.methanefacts.org to learn more and connect with organizations involved in the campaign).

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Cameron Conaway is a recipient of the Daniel Pearl Investigative Journalism Fellowship. He’s the Director of Content at Reflektion.

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