Half of Latinos in U.S. Live in Country’s Most Polluted Cities

Latinos face major health risks from delayed implementation of new EPA air pollution rules.

By Jorge Rivas Sep 22, 2011

One out two Latinos in the U.S. live in counties that frequently violate air pollution standards, a report published by Natural Resources Defense Council has found. A large majority of them living in areas where the Environmental Protection Agency has determined the air is unsafe to breathe.

The pollutants in these areas is released into the air by vehicles, power plants, and other industrial sources, according to the report, "U.S. Latinos and Air Pollution: A Call to Action." Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups, the report suggests there is a connection between air quality and elevated rates of asthma among Latinos. 

"The growing U.S. Latino population, which includes millions who are uninsured, faces serious health and financial burdens brought on by air pollution," Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said in a statement.

Latinos are less likely to have health insurance than any other racial or ethnic group; nearly one in every three (32.4 percent) Latinos lacks health insurance.

The report also points to a report released by the Sierra Club earlier this year that found Latinos are more likely to live within 10-miles of a coal-fired power plant. Living next to one of these plants that spreads elevated levels of mercury in to the air is dangerous for everyone, but especially for those who lack health insurance and primary care.

These findings come just days after President Obama pulled back the EPA’s stronger standard proposals for clean air. Earlier this month Obama scrubbed proposals that would have reduced concentrations of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog created when cars, power and chemical plants and other emissions mix with the sun. (EPA’s proposal would’ve lowered the allowable amount of pollution-forming ozone from 75 to between 60 and 70 parts per billion for any eight-hour period.)

Obama said his decision was made in part because the proposed changes would cost an estimated $90 billion a year.

"Latinos want clean air and a strong economy" Jorge Madrid, Research Associate at the Center for American Progress said in a press release. "We are the fastest growing group of voters in the U.S., and we need to know our leaders in Washington are fighting to protect our health and grow jobs — those two things are not mutually exclusive."

The largest Latino communities are found in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, and Texas.