As I mentioned in my May 12, 2020 blog, the people who are hurt the most from pollution and the impacts from our changing climate are often people with the least means to avoid these problems. People who live downstream or downwind from an ‘out of compliance’ manufacturing site or power plant have the most exposure to air and water pollution, and they are without the financial resources to move to a more expensive but cleaner area. They may benefit from the power generated or commercial goods produced, but they often suffer most from the exposure to toxic chemicals. This is one good reason that we have regulations and why we need to enforce these regulations at all times. The costs of good environmental regulation has proven to be far less than the health and economic benefits that we all gain.
Caring for the environment may seem like a luxury to some because it takes time, money, knowledge, and political power to clean things up and keep them clean. The exposure to toxic chemicals has been made worse by the practice of redlining in many parts of the country. Redlining is the systematic denial of various services by government agencies and the private sector to residents of specific neighborhoods – most notably black and brown communities. This is done either directly or through the selective raising of prices. Just think how these historic and current practices make things worse for some sectors of our population. Here are a few ways that people who are trapped in poor areas suffer more than the rest of us when it comes to the wide-ranging impacts of a changing climate.
Health impacts in poor areas:
- Existing social, health, infrastructure, food supply, and housing vulnerabilities in poor areas will impact residents’ ability to respond in the face of a changing climate.
- Weather – Major rain storms threaten all of us but especially people living in low-lying areas with inadequate and poorly maintained stormwater, sewage, transportation, and electrical infrastructure.
- Air Quality – Coal, oil, and natural gas fired power plants and manufacturing facilities are often located in or near poor areas. They can emit toxins, e.g., coal plants often emit mercury, arsenic, lead, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.
- Higher temperatures are exacerbated by the ‘Heat Island Affect’, and our cities often lack the cooling and cleaning benefits of a forested area. This leads to higher temperatures and greater risk of heat stroke, COPD, heart attack, and premature death.
- Increased heat and ozone levels result in more asthma attacks and hospitalization.
- Extreme heat and extreme precipitation events increase the risk of salmonella infections.
- Mental Health – Greater impacts result from repeated exposures and climatic events.
For further information, I would recommend resources from EcoAmerica. They have an entire climate and health program. Climate Justice Alliance is also a good resource for climate and social justice concerns.