LCLAA recognizes that there are many environmental issues affecting Latinos today. Although we are not able to bring each issue to the forefront, we would like to highlight some key issues affecting the Latino community. With that in mind, we provide a list of environmental health issues which include some, but not all, of the important facts Latinos need to begin the process of arming themselves with knowledge to protect themselves and their families from serious ailments.
According to the NRDC, some of the major sources of mercury pollution in the US include coal-fired power plants, boilers, steel production, incinerators, and cement plants. Power plants are the largest source, emitting around 33 tons of mercury pollution in the US annually, and contributing to almost half of all mercury emissions. Although the amount of mercury has gone down by 65 percent in the past two decades in the United States, it is still present and affecting our communities. Latinos who enjoy consuming fish are susceptible to illnesses caused by this neurotoxin by consuming contaminated fish. Mercury can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, and lungs and is linked to learning disabilities in children—a group that is especially susceptible to the harms of this element.
According to the NLCCC 2011 report on Air Pollution, smog is a creation of pollutants known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) combining to form ground-level o-zone. VOCs are emitted from products like gasoline, industrial chemicals, dry cleaning solvents, paints and household cleaners. NOx are produced from burning fuels such as gasoline and diesel fuel. In many urban areas, at least half of the components of smog come from cars, buses, trucks, and boats. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48.4 percent of all Hispanic-Americans live in counties that frequently violate ground-level o-zone standards. Thus, more than 23 million Latinos are at a higher risk of asthma, bronchitis, and even death from air pollution.
The majority of farmworkers are Latinos and as such, we are at high risk for exposure to pesticides. Whether it be by working in fields that have recently been sprayed with pesticides, being sprayed by pesticides while at work, or even dealing with the run-off from sprayed fields, Latinos are at risk for a myriad of serious health issues. Depending on the method and level of exposure as well as the type of pesticide, reactions can be mild like irritation to the eyes or skin or severe leading to severe damage to the nervous system and/or a cancerous agent. To see a list of the effects of specific pesticides, see the EPA’s Pesticide ReRegistration List.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, lead is a highly toxic metal and it is all around us. The most common source of lead is from paint in homes and buildings built before 1978. Lead also can be emitted into the air from industrial sources and leaded aviation gasoline, and lead can enter drinking water through plumbing materials. It is also used in the production of batteries, ammunition, metal products (solder and pipes), and devices to shield X-rays. Because of health concerns, lead from paints and ceramic products, caulking, and pipe solder has been dramatically reduced in recent years. The use of lead as an additive to automobile gasoline was banned in 1996 in the United States. Mining, smelting, and refining activities have resulted in substantial increases in lead levels in the environment, especially near mining and smelting sites. Lead exposure affects the nervous system and can cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children six years old and younger are most at risk.