Author Archives: Lucía Oliva Hennelly

Why Latinos are disproportionately affected by asthma — and what we can do

(This post first appeared on EDF Voices. Para leer en Español haga clic aquí)

This post was co-authored by Rachel Shaffer  and Declan Kingland, National Health Programs Coordinator for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Today in the United States, Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups. Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino whites, and nearly 1 in 10 Latino children under the age of 18 suffer from this chronic respiratory illness. Addressing the dangerous indoor and outdoor air pollution that is linked to asthma is critical for the health of Latino communities – and for all Americans.

Socioeconomics

Latinos are one of the poorest demographics in the United States, with roughly 1 in 4 Latinos living under the poverty level. Many Latinos also face challenges due to limited English-language proficiency, and in some cases, low levels of education. These issues can lead Latinos, particularly new immigrants, to low-paying jobs, often in the fields of agriculture, construction, and service.

Too often, these jobs expose workers to serious respiratory hazards from both indoor and outdoor air pollution, yet they frequently provide no healthcare benefits. For example, the toxic chemical formaldehyde, which is linked to asthma, can be found in glues, insulation, and wood products to which construction workers are disproportionately exposed. Asthma-related toxics can also be found in paints, cleaning products, carpets, and foam cushions.

Housing

Low-paying jobs held by Latinos lead to low-income families, and these families can be at even greater risk for asthma if their housing is substandard or if their home is located near major roadways, factories, or power plants, which produce air pollutants that can exacerbate asthma. People with asthma are especially sensitive to the pollutants released from cars, buses, heavy machinery, factories, and power plants, including particulate matter (soot), ground-level ozone (smog), carbon monoxide, and more.

Nearly 1 in 2 Latinos in the U.S. live in counties that frequently violate ground-level ozone standards.  Latinos are also 165% more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of particulate matter pollution than non-Latino whites, and nearly 2 in 5 Latinos lives within 30 miles of a power plant. Asthma triggers can also be found inside the home – from ethanolamines found in cleaning products, to bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxic chemical found in plastic products and food can linings.  Some asthma-linked toxic chemicals are even found in personal creams and lotions.

Healthcare

Statistics show that Latinos face disproportionate exposures to asthma-exacerbating indoor and outdoor air pollution. At the same time, Latinos face added challenges when seeking adequate healthcare. This is due in part to the language, educational, and economic barriers mentioned previously, which can limit access to or awareness of available health care resources that may be available. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 Latinos lacks health insurance.

These barriers to health care access can have significant consequences:

  • Compared to non-Latino whites, Latinos with asthma are less likely to be prescribed appropriate asthma medications and less likely to have access to asthma specialists.
  • Latinos who have an asthma emergency that sends them to the ER or hospital are also less likely to receive follow-up care or an asthma action plan.

Combined, these serious issues can make an otherwise manageable disease life-threatening.

What we can do

While these challenges are daunting, we have an opportunity to address part of the problem by demanding that our leaders take action to reduce asthma hazards – for Latinos, and for the nation as a whole. This is why EDF and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) have come together this year to help raise awareness among and empower Latinos in the U.S. to better combat this often preventable illness by strengthening the air pollution and chemicals laws that protect us.

We at EDF and at LULAC encourage you to ask your Congressman to:

Nationwide, Latinos are among the 25 million people – including 7 million children – affected by asthma.  We can help address the immediate problem through other avenues – like improving health care coverage or worker protections.  But ultimately, we need to address the root of the problem. We need to get rid of the air pollution and toxins that are linked to asthma.  All of us, including our Latino communities, should act now to get rid of the underlying causes of the disease. Until we do, we are all at risk.

Posted in Health, Partners for Change | 2 Responses, comments now closed

What the growing Latino community can do for climate politics

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices. Para leer in Espanol haga clic aquí)

In 2012 Latinos made up 1 in 10 voters and helped decide the Presidential election with record-setting voter margins. Last month in California, the most populous state in the nation, the Hispanic population surpassed that of non-Hispanic whites. The only other state to reach this benchmark is New Mexico, where the Latino population is almost 10% larger than that of non-Hispanic whites.

As the Latino population continues to grow across the country, so does its influence in key political arenas. In battleground states like Florida, Colorado, and Nevada, Latinos accounted for 17, 14, and 18 percent of voters in 2012, respectively, an increase from previous elections. The trend has reignited a lively discussion about the influence of the American Latino community, the “sleeping giant” of American politics.

There’s also a lesser-known political trend that is emerging among the country’s youngest and fastest-growing demographic: the demand among Latinos for action to address climate change. In a new national poll released last month by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Latino Decisions:

  • 9 out of 10 Latino voters “want the government to take action against the dangers of global warming and climate change”
  • 8 in 10 Latinos want the President to curb the carbon pollution that causes climate change
  • 86% of Latinos support limits on carbon pollution from power plants

How is this demographic shift significant to environmental advocacy?

The implications of this demographic moving so clearly in favor of pro-environmental policies is significant. For one, environmental policy issues are likely to fast become determining issues for Latino voters on both sides of the aisle. According to Latino Decisions, a leader in Latino political opinion research, the only other policy issue that has received such high levels of support is immigration reform, an issue in the lead among the most significant deciding issues for Latino voters across the political spectrum.

This demographic shift is also significant as the impacts of climate change become more severe. In recent months, key electoral states with large Latino populations have felt the devastating effects of climate change, from the unprecedented flooding in Colorado to California’s historic drought. With 50,000 Latinos turning 18 every month, a solid stance on environmental policy may fast become a make or break issue for elected officials in these states and at the national level.

Combined, these trends paint a clear picture, one of a Latino population that disproportionately supports action on climate change and that is increasingly influential in key political states.

Environmentalists, take note: this is a major opportunityfor the environmental movement to move forward policy that has stalled in the past. Equally as urgent, it is a tremendous opportunity to elevate the voices of Latinos, among other communities of color, disproportionately affected by environmental issues. A few examples:

  • It’s a chance to build support for green jobs initiatives, many of which will be undertaken by Latinos and Latinas
  • It’s a call to arms to better address the environmental health impacts that disproportionately affect Latino communities

Perhaps most important, it’s an open door to create more space for diversity in a movement that needs broader support to succeed, and one that will be more effective by better engaging underrepresented communities. How well we do this will be a measure of how quickly and how equitably we hope to meaningfully address climate change, the defining issue of our time.

Posted in News | 1 Response, comments now closed
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