Majority Latinos Live in the Most Polluted U.S. Cities

By Andrew Ysiano – Latino Times

A new report from the American Lung Association State of the Air finds that between 2020 and 2022 people in the U.S. experienced the most days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality in 25 years. In total, the report finds that 131 million people (39%) are living in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

In California, the impacts of dirty air are the most severe of any state with more than 98% Californians living in a community that earned a failing grade for unhealthy ozone (smog) pollution days. Notably, Los Angeles, the most polluted city in the U.S., earned an “F” (fail) grade in air quality for the 25th year in a row.

Taking a closer look at the data, the most polluted cities or regions in the country are in California and have a large or majority Latino population. This is a big reason why California Latinos are exposed to the worst air quality in the country

Most Polluted Region Ranking (smog) Latino Population 
#1: Los Angeles, CA 49%
#2: Visalia,CA 52.5%
#3: Bakersfield, CA53%
#4: Fresno, CA 50%
#7: Sacramento30%
#8: San Diego30%

(see the full list here)

The report also looked at particle pollution, or soot, which come from wildfires, wood-burning stoves, coal-fired power plants, diesel engines and other sources. These microscopic particles can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and cause lung cancer. The report found that extreme heat, drought and wildfires are contributing to a steady increase in deadly particle pollution in the western U.S. In California, the Central Valley region accounts for 6 of 10 most polluted cities in the country by year-round particle pollution, with Bakersfield, Visalia, and Fresno ranking at numbers 1-3. 

As climate change worsens, California can expect more periods of drought and wildfires, which can make bad air quality even worse. This is a big challenge for Latinos who live and work in agricultural regions like the Central Valley, where the vast majority (92%) of farmworkers are Latino. 

In total the report measured three air quality indicators, and found that nationally over 27.5 million people of color live in counties that received failing grades on all three indicators. This number includes some 16.8 million Latino people, meaning they accounted for 61% of people of color who live in areas that failed all three air quality tests.

Also notable, the cities with the cleanest air have a very low average Latino population (5%).

Cleanest U.S. Cities (alphabetical)Latino Population 
Bangor, ME1.52%
Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol, TN-VA3.45%
Lincoln-Beatrice, NE8.08%
Honolulu, HI 7.2%
Wilmington, NC7.14%

Read the press release here

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