News Coverage

27 April 2024

LATIN TIMES: California's Latino-heavy Cities Have the Highest Air Pollution Levels in the U.S.

Category: News Coverage

Latinos are the largest demographic group in the five most air-polluted cities in the United States, according to a report by the American Lung Association.

The study, an annual data analysis titled "State of the Air", ranked the 25 cities where air pollution is considered bad enough to put their health at risk. The list was made based on pollution data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Latinos comprised over half of the population in the top five cities with the highest year-round air pollution levels. Bakersfield, California, topped the list for the second year in a row.

Bakersfield is an industrial city in south-central California and known for agriculture, mining and oil refineries. Latinos constitute 52.9% of its 916,108 total population, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Visalia city, also in California and where 52.5% of its 143,966 total residents are Latinos, came in second. It was closely followed by another three neighboring cities -Fresno, Madera and Hanford-, which are all placed in third for their similar rates of air pollution.

In Fresno city, which has a poor air quality resulting mainly from it being a hub of freight operations, industry, and freeways, Latinos represent 55% of its total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Madera, with a long history in the gold rush era and a longstanding influx of Mexican immigrants, is one of the most Latino populated cities in the U.S., with 81% of its population being of Hispanic descent.

In Hanford, located within the San Joaquin Valley Air Basin and whose topography prevents dispersion of air pollutants, Latinos constitute 50.1% of the city's total population, representing the largest demographic group, according to official data.

The report outlined that people of color are the highest risk group due to environmental reasons in the U.S., marking Latinos as one of the most vulnerable to illness and death from their exposure to unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.

This is evident from a fact cited in the document: of the 27.5 million people of color living in counties that received failing grades, 16.8 million are Hispanics.

Juan Rosas, member of the Hispanic Access Foundation, which recently launched the study project "El aire que respiramos", or The Air We Breathe, explained that in the U.S., Hispanic people are disproportionately exposed to harmful air pollution.

The first reason is linked to the findings of the American Lung Association, as he explains that it's common for neighborhoods with large Hispanic populations to be located near highways or oil and gas plants, sources of pollution that can worsen related diseases.

Secondly, Latinos are more likely to work outdoors in agriculture or construction, thus exposing themselves to a greater extent to wildfire smoke, traffic pollution, or industrial emissions.

The American Lung Association's study revealed that the proportion of people living in unhealth air polluted places in the U.S. has risen sharply since earlier rounds of pollutant data.

Today, about 39% of the population live in a place where air pollution is considered bad enough to put their health at risk.

The conditions are worse in some cities, led by the following in year-round air pollution levels:

  1. Bakersfield, California
  2. Visalia, California
  3. Fresno, California
  4. Madera, California
  5. Hanford, California
  6. Eugene, Oregon
  7. Springfield, Oregon
  8. San Jose, California
  9. San Francisco, California
  10. Oakland, California

Written by Rocío Magnani for the Latin Times. 

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