Backyard Talk

Studies Suggest Air Pollution Increases Threat of Coronavirus Airborne Transmission

By: Shaina Smith, Community Organizing Intern
The reality of environmental inequality is that industry polluters target low-wealth and minority communities disproportionately. A 2018 study found that Black and Latino people are typically exposed to 56% and 63% more air pollution than is caused by their consumption, but that white people are exposed to 17% less than they cause.
This exposure weakens the immune system over time, and people with preexisting respiratory or cardiovascular diseases are more likely to have a severe case of coronavirus.
A recent Harvard study found that higher levels of pollution particles known as PM 2.5 are linked to higher coronavirus death rates. An increase of just one microgram per cubic meter results in a 10% increase in coronavirus cases, and 15% increases in death.  A separate study of air quality found overlap between areas of high coronavirus mortality rate with high levels of air pollution. The EPA standard for PM 2.5 is 12 micrograms per cubic meter annual average, and the WHO standard is 10. However, some places in New York have annual PM levels above either standard, which may have contributed to the coronavirus hotspot earlier in the year. 
A preliminary study in Italy detected Sars-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) on PM 10, which is the same thing as PM 2.5, but slightly larger. This means that air pollution is not only a direct pathway to transmission of coronavirus, but can even travel further in the air, increasing the risk for anyone living in areas of high contamination. 
CDC data shows Black and Latino people are three times as likely to become infected with coronavirus than white people, and twice as likely to die.
These communities on the frontlines of pollution were already facing a health crisis, the coronavirus pandemic makes it more deadly.
To control a second wave the government needs to seriously consider the findings of these recent studies and impose harsher penalties and regulations on industrial polluters. In doing so this means taking on the root cause of why Black and Brown people suffer the most from this pandemic: systemic racism embedded in environmental, economic, and political aspects of life. 
Photo by: Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

Homepage News Archive

Polluters Are Winning Big on COVID-19 Recovery Efforts

Polluting industries, such as coal power plants, mining, and oil and gas corporations are receiving financial and regulatory relief across the globe, but specifically in the US, as governments aim to provide relief during the pandemic. These moves threaten progress that has made to combat polluters over the years and puts the globe at risk for rapid deterioration caused by climate change. Read More
Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash

Backyard Talk News Archive

Trump must do three simple things NOW!

Racial and class division has long been one of the tactics used by the rich and powerful to keep working people from organizing. Today it’s so blatant; as we move tragically through the devastating impacts of COVID-19 there’s not even an attempt to hide or disguise the behavior. I’m frustrated, angry and ready to figure out how to move forward, stand together and speak with one voice. We need to demand immediately that the federal government takes the following first three steps.

  • Immediately reduce air pollution by 50% until the pandemic is over. 

EPA announced in March that they will no longer monitor air or enforce environmental regulations. Families who live around polluting facility are forced to shelter in place — with their “place” so polluted that they cannot go outdoors and cannot open windows. The chemicals are respiratory irritants.

  • First test people in the vulnerable areas which are low income, black and brown communities and senior centers.

Black and brown people make up the majority of “essential front-line workers.”  These essential workers drive trucks, process food, run public transportation, clean hospitals and so much more. Today if you have money not you are an essential worker you can get tested.

  • Expand health care access through mobile clinic or other means to vulnerable communities (usually health care deserts).

You just need to listen to the news to see that athletes, famous TV people, rich families have no problems getting a test if they want one. Patrick Ewing tested positive, went to the hospital and is now healing at home. Patrick’s a great basketball coach/player we wish him well. But Mr. Hernandez and Thomas were unable to receive a test. After driving a long distances to seek help, there is no medical facilities in their communities, they were turned away (even with COVID symptoms) told to go home and quarantine themselves. This is just not right.

Backyard Talk

Is It A Surprise That Low-Income and Communities Of Color Are At Higher Risk of Serious Illnesses If Infected With The Coronavirus ???

Blog by Sharon Franklin
On May 7, 2020  A group from the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. has steadily climbed.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local governments continue to release data about the characteristics of people who have developed serious illness when infected with coronavirus, as well as the number of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.  The emerging national and state level data suggest that serious illness resulting from coronavirus disproportionately affects people in communities of color, due to the underlying health and economic challenges.  Notably, adults with low incomes are more likely to have higher rates of chronic conditions compared to adults with high incomes, which could increase their risk of serious illness, if infected with coronavirus.
The Key Findings Show
In a previous study this research group found that approximately one in five adults (21%) ages 18-64 have a higher risk of developing serious illness, if they become infected with the coronavirus due to underlying health conditions.  In this study they found that American Indian/Alaska Native and Black Adults are at higher risk of serious illness if infected with coronavirus than White adults.  More than one in three (34%) American Indian/Alaska Native and 27% Black Adults are at higher risk of serious Illness if infected with the Coronavirus, greater than other racial and ethnic groups.  
More than one in four (27%) Black non-elderly adults who are at a higher risk of serious illness if infected with the coronavirus, compared to about one in five (21%) of White adults.
More than one in three (35%) non-elderly adults with household incomes below $15,000 are at higher risk of serious illness if infected with coronavirus, compared to about one in seven (16%) adults with household incomes greater than $50,000 See Figure 2.
Conclusion: American Indian/Alaska Native and Black Adults are at higher risk of serious illness if infected with the Coronavirus, compared to White adults; and  A larger share of non-elderly adults with lower household income compared to higher household incomes have a greater risk of serious illness if they are infected with the coronavirus. 

To learn more click here. 

Backyard Talk

COVID-19 Is Bad & Could Be “A Double Whammy” For People in Texas

Blog by Sharon Franklin
DaLyah Jones a staff writer for Texas Observer covering the environment reported on March 25, 2020 that COVID-19 Could Be a Double Whammy for Those in Pollution Hotspots.
Ms. Jones reports that air pollution across the globe has sharply dropped, an unintended silver lining of COVID-19,  as the coronavirus continues to spread.  However, Texas environmental advocates are bracing for impacts that can’t be reversed by a few weeks of reduced industrial production and air travel. Why is this? Because Texans living in polluted areas who breathe polluted air are more likely to have preexisting health issues, and are also at a higher risk of getting seriously ill from the virus.  Currently, there have not been any large-scale studies of how air pollution can complicate COVID-19.  However, experts say that lung damage caused by poor air quality or smoking could poses a “double-whammy effect”, to these individuals because it can only be exacerbated by pollution hotspots and COVID-19, as noted by Elena Craft, of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Researchers at Environment Texas utilizing 2016 data found that roughly 20 metropolitan and rural areas in Texas had elevated levels of particulate matter and smog. In the Houston metro area there are many hotspots (Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Fort Bend, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller counties) that currently don’t meet the national air-quality standards.  Additionally, Dr. Brett Perkison, MD, Professor of Occupational Medicine, University of Texas School of Public Health says that those much-needed defenses are further taxed “by exposure day after day, year after year, to high levels of ozone and nitric oxide.”
According to a study conducted by the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force, some of the nation’s largest African American populations are at risk for childhood asthma are in the cities of Dallas and Houston.  Researchers also found that Texas was one of three states to have the most African Americans living within a half-mile of an oil or natural gas facility.  Dr. Perkison further says “Low-socioeconomic communities that occur near manufacturing or industrial sites are at more risk for acute and chronic disease, and we need to take it seriously to allocate resources adequately.”  Dr. Perkison encourages at-risk residents to take even more precautions, especially when concentrations of ground-level ozone are high, which includes limiting their time outdoors, monitoring their breathing, or only going outside in the morning, before ozone forms.
Researchers have already begun looking at neighborhoods that face elevated risks.  A team at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston mapped the potential risk of severe COVID-19 in Harris County by identifying residents who are 60 and older that have one or more chronic conditions.  The study found that the East Little York, Deer Park, Channelview, and East End neighborhoods saw the highest concentration of people over 60 or with a chronic disease.
Reverend James Caldwell, a founder of Coalition of Community Organizations, says the virus has increased a “myriad of issues” for communities like Houston’s Fifth Ward that are located near Superfund sites and has seen elevated cases of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.  Reverend Caldwell notes, many residents with preexisting conditions are also uninsured.  He asks “Why does it cost out of pocket to just stay alive?”
 Photo:  Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle Via AP