WASHINGTON – Clean Air Task Force (CATF) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have co-authored a landmark report that demonstrates, for the first time, the specific health risks from airborne pollutants caused by oil and natural gas development impacting African American communities.
The study, Fumes Across the Fence-Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Facilities on African American Communities, is being launched today at a briefing at the National Press Club by NAACP and CATF, and supported by the National Medical Association (NMA).
Key findings of the study are:
- Oil and natural gas facilities are built near or currently exist within a half-mile of over one million African Americans, exposing them to an elevated risk of cancer due to air toxic emissions;
- The oil and natural gas industries violate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air quality standards for ozone smog due to natural gas emissions in many African American communities, causing over 138,000 asthma attacks among school children and over 100,000 missed school days each year;
- There are 91 counties across the U.S. that are building oil refineries or where refineries exist close to more than 6.7 million African Americans, or 14 percent of the national population, disproportionately exposing them to toxic and hazardous emissions such as benzene, sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde.
These “fence-line” communities, or communities where oil and natural gas refineries are placed near the property lines or fences of African American and low-income people, are the focus of the groundbreaking study, providing data on the environmental racism that activists have been fighting for decades.
“Energy companies often deny responsibility for the disproportionate impact of polluting facilities on lower-income communities and communities of color,” said Kathy Egland, NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Committee Board Chair. “It is claimed that in most cases the potentially toxic facilities were built first and communities knowingly developed around them. However, studies of such areas show that industrial polluting facilities and sites have frequently been built in transitional neighborhoods, where the demographics have shifted from wealthier white residents to lower-income people of color. Polluting facilities also reduce nearby property values, making them more affordable areas to live in for people who do not have the means to live elsewhere.”
“Studies of air pollution from the oil and gas industry have revealed emissions throughout the entire supply chain, from the wellhead to the consumer, with deleterious effects on communities around the country,” said Lesley Fleischman, Research Analyst for Clean Air Task Force and co-author of the study. “However, we’ve found that fence-line communities, including many African Americans, are suffering especially serious health consequences as a result of these emissions.”
The health impacts from the oil and natural gas supply chain described in Fumes Across the Fence-Line are based on data and analysis that were first quantified in two recent reports published by CATF. First, Fossil Fumes examined how air toxins are linked to increased risk of cancer and respiratory disorders in dozens of counties that exceed EPA’s level of concern. And Gasping for Breath, also published in 2016, estimated the health impacts from ozone smog caused by emissions from the oil and gas industry.
Fumes Across the Fence-Line also uses the Oil and Gas Threat Map, developed by Earthworks and FracTracker Alliance, to illustrate the threats faced by people across the nation from pollution from the oil and gas industry. The map shows the locations of the 1.2 million oil and gas facilities operating around the country, as well as the populations, schools, and hospitals within a half-mile radius of those facilities.
The largest African American populations living in areas with cancer risk above EPA’s level of concern are found in Texas and Louisiana, with close to 900,000 individuals at risk in those two states alone. Some of the largest African American populations at risk for childhood asthma attacks due to ozone smog resulting from oil and gas facilities are located in Houston and Dallas. However, since pollutants can drift for hundreds or even thousands of miles before forming ozone smog, African American communities as far as Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York City each face thousands of childhood asthma attacks each year due to oil and gas pollution. In addition, the report found that three states – Texas, Ohio and California, closely followed by Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma – have the largest share of African American citizens living within the half-mile “threat zone.”
“The effects of oil and gas pollution are disproportionately afflicting African Americans, particularly cancer and respiratory issues, and the trend is only increasing,” said Dr. Doris Browne, NMA President. “Our membership is seeing far too many patients in communities of color suffering from these diseases. It is our goal to fight to reverse this dangerous trend.”
The EPA in 2016 took a welcome step in finalizing strong standards for methane and ozone smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) covering new and modified oil and gas facilities. Doing so would have the additional benefit of cleaning up other pollutants including air toxics such as benzene, formaldehyde and sulfur dioxide. It also began to address the 1.2 million existing sources of methane and other airborne pollutants, which spew out millions of tons of pollutants without any controls. However, the Trump Administration has targeted these protections and those governing methane emissions on public lands. These rollbacks are currently being challenged in courts across the country.
“What this Administration is discovering as it attempts to undo vital health and environmental protections is that these sensible standards cannot simply be wished away, only to the benefit of the oil and gas industry,” said Sarah Uhl, Program Director, Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, for Clean Air Task Force. “Not only do we have the law on our side, we also have the medical and scientific communities who will help ensure that our air, and our health, particularly in fence-line communities, are protected to the full extent of the law.”