The Trump administration in the USA cut funding for their Environmental Protection Agency which led to an increase in pollution that harms people and nature. The pollution problem isn’t all thanks to Trump though, it comes from years of negligence around policies and procedures to protect communities from dangerous industrial waste. For example, in the early 2000s the Bush administration stopped a few NASA efforts to observe greenhouse gas emissions in the nation.
Despite government inaction, ProPublica decided to map out the most poisoned places in the States. Why is this on a good news site? If we don’t look at where the emission are coming, and what the combined impact is of those emissions then we won’t be able to adequately fight climate change. Knowledge is power.
At the map’s intimate scale, it’s possible to see up close how a massive chemical plant near a high school in Port Neches, Texas, laces the air with benzene, an aromatic gas that can cause leukemia. Or how a manufacturing facility in New Castle, Delaware, for years blanketed a day care playground with ethylene oxide, a highly toxic chemical that can lead to lymphoma and breast cancer. Our analysis found that ethylene oxide is the biggest contributor to excess industrial cancer risk from air pollutants nationwide. Corporations across the United States, but especially in Texas and Louisiana, manufacture the colorless, odorless gas, which lingers in the air for months and is highly mutagenic, meaning it can alter DNA.
In all, ProPublica identified more than a thousand hot spots of cancer-causing air. They are not equally distributed across the country. A quarter of the 20 hot spots with the highest levels of excess risk are in Texas, and almost all of them are in Southern states known for having weaker environmental regulations. Census tracts where the majority of residents are people of color experience about 40% more cancer-causing industrial air pollution on average than tracts where the residents are mostly white. In predominantly Black census tracts, the estimated cancer risk from toxic air pollution is more than double that of majority-white tracts.
Thanks to Tom Scott for the title!