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Deadly air pollutants putting health of people of color in danger, study partially blames historic racial disparities

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Posted at 7:43 AM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 07:43:39-04

CLEVELAND — Around 135 million Americans are breathing deadly, unhealthy air, according to the American Lung Association's most recent "State of the Air" report.

Now, a new study published by the Science Advances magazine found deadly air pollutants are disproportionately and systemically harming Black, Latino and Asian Americans. Moreover, they are suffering at higher levels regardless of their status or income level.

“We're not necessarily surprised when we hear this information because we're aware of it already,” Dr. Lashale D. Pugh, assistant executive director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition.

We’re learning Black people are exposed to higher averages that account for up to 200,000 deaths every year. In Cleveland, the American Lung Association recently found no improvement in particle pollution, which ranks the city 14th in the nation. The exposure has been linked to health issues like heart disease, strokes and cancer.

“I also have done research and it's not difficult to see that there are areas in the metropolitan Cleveland area that are more susceptible to asthma,” said Dr. Sumita Khatri, director of Asthma Center at the Cleveland Clinic. “The reason we focus on asthma is that nobody should have asthma and kids really are pure. And so why are they getting it?”

But the dangerous exposure doesn't always occur at home. Pugh says it can also show up at work.

“Particularly individuals working at the airport. Actually, look at them and see who they are and a lot of times you'll see that they are minorities and particularly blacks.”

So, why is this happening?

The study notes how decisions were made decades ago about where to build highways and industrial plants continue to harm minorities.

“The areas where the most of the exposures exist for blacks are in the areas that have been redlined,” said Pugh.

Pugh and her team are hoping and pushing for President Biden to help by through his Infrastructure bill. The team is also pushing for more investments in clean energy and electric vehicles, cleaning up properties and public parks and regulating facilities near neighborhoods.

RELATED: Air Quality Alert issued for multiple Northeast Ohio counties