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Communities of Color Called Most At Risk from EPA’s Air Stance

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Early studies from researchers at Harvard University found that a small increase in long-term exposure to air pollution leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate. (Adobe Stock)
Early studies from researchers at Harvard University found that a small increase in long-term exposure to air pollution leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate. (Adobe Stock)
May 26, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to leave current limits on air pollution unchanged, but critics say the particle pollution standards aren't strict enough and put human health at risk.

Mustafa Santiago Ali is a member of the Environmental Protection Network and Vice President of Environmental Justice for the National Wildlife Federation. He said more than 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year can be attributed to air pollution.

"And we know because of the location of communities of color, and lower-wealth communities and indigenous peoples that they are the ones who are located very closely to many of these polluting facilities," Ali said.

The EPA has argued that current science doesn't prove reducing particulate matter can improve public health. The agency is holding a public hearing via teleconference on the proposal to retain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter on Wednesday.

Ali said numerous studies have shown people of color tend to have higher rates of chronic health conditions such as heart disease and lung disease from breathing in higher levels of air pollution.

"Many of these communities are medically underserved, they are food deserts," he said. "With all of the information that the Environmental Protection Agency and a number of the other agencies and departments have, we know that these communities are going to be disproportionately impacted."

He said the coronavirus pandemic is creating an additional burden on already vulnerable communities.

"We also now know that those also make us more vulnerable to COVID-19. So there's a double whammy that's going on inside of our most vulnerable communities that are labeled as frontline communities or environmental justice communities," Ali said.

Public comments on the EPA's proposal to maintain current air-pollution standards must be received before June 29.

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC