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Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: How is it that Latino communities are among those hardest hit by air pollution?
—Miguel Aragones, Los Angeles, CA

The League of United Latin American Citizens found that seven out of 10 Hispanic Americans face air pollution threats 16 percent greater than the overall U.S. population, making Latino families more vulnerable to health problems associated with air pollutants.

Photo © PhotoDisc/Thinkstock

Latinos are indeed among the U.S. ethnic groups hardest hit by air pollution. A recent report from the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change (NLCCC), Center for American Progress, National Resources Defense Council and National Wildlife Federation found that Latinos face a disproportionately large air pollution risk than even other minority groups. According to the report, “U.S. Latinos and Air Pollution: A Call to Action,” Latinos face increased health care costs, more lost days at school and work, and a shorter life expectancy due to increased exposure to air pollution.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 26.6 percent of U.S. Hispanics live in counties that violate the federal government’s 24-hour standards for fine particulate matter, the greatest percentage of any ethnic group. Meanwhile, 48.4 percent of Hispanics live in counties that frequently violated eight-hour ground-level ozone standards.

According to the National Coalition of Hispanic Health & Human Services Organizations (COSSMHO), 80 percent of U.S. Latinos (compared with 65 percent of non-Hispanic U.S. blacks and 57 percent of non-Hispanic U.S. whites) live in so-called “non-attainment” areas where ambient air quality is worse than what the federal government considers safe. “Although Hispanics in general live as long as or longer than non-Hispanic whites, what morbidity data are available reveal that the quality of that life is severely impaired by a variety of chronic conditions, such as asthma,” adds the coalition.

Meanwhile, another recent report from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) found that seven out of 10 Hispanic Americans face air pollution threats some 16 percent greater overall than the overall U.S. population. “The increased exposure to air pollution makes Latino families more vulnerable to health problems associated with air pollutants such as low birth weight and asthma attacks,” stated the report. “Factors such as poverty, language barriers and lack of access to health care increase the danger.”

In June 2011, 14 Latino groups from California, Texas and other states joined together to urge President Obama to bring permissible levels of ground-level ozone—a key component in the formation of smog—down to below 70 parts per billion. Under George W. Bush, the limit was lowered from 85 to 75 parts per billion, but environmentalists maintain that the limit must be even lower to reduce respiratory and related illnesses in densely populated, largely minority urban areas already hardest hit by pollution.

But in September 2011 the Obama administration cited economic concerns in announcing that it would leave the ozone standard as is for now. Lowering it further at this point, the White House argued, would cost American businesses and the federal government billions to upgrade or retrofit industrial facilities with pollution scrubbing equipment and other technologies. The administration hinted it would revisit the topic once the economy improves, but in the meantime those living in urban areas with unsafe amounts of air pollution should check daily air quality forecasts before going outside for extended periods. The federal government’s Airnow.gov website offers daily air quality reports across 300+ urban areas from coast-to-coast, and also provides links to more detailed state and local air quality information sources.

CONTACTS: NLCCC; COSSMHO; LULAC.

 
 

 

Dear EarthTalk: I know that there are many issues with personal care products being unsafe for our health, but where do I look to find out what’s safe and what’s not?
—Mary Pulaski, Trenton, NJ

The vast majority of the 12,500 chemicals used by the $50 billion beauty industry have never been assessed for safety.

Photo © PhotoDisc/Thinkstock

The average American uses about 10 personal care products each day, resulting in exposure to some 100 unique chemicals. But the vast majority of the 12,500 chemicals used by the $50 billion beauty industry have never been assessed for safety, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC), a coalition of eight non-profits concerned about the health of cosmetics and personal care products.
“Many of these chemicals are linked to adverse health effects like cancer, birth defects and other serious health issues,” CSC reports. And with cosmetics chemicals showing up in breast milk and umbilical cord blood, not to mention rivers, lakes and drinking water aquifers, it is indeed a problem that affects us all.

Unfortunately for American consumers, these products aren’t held to the same high safety standard as foods and drugs in the United States, and as such manufacturers do not have to disclose ingredients on their products’ labels. That means it’s up to consumers to educate themselves as to what products to buy and which to avoid if human health and the environment are concerns.

To the rescue comes the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), which launched its SkinDeep database back in 2004 to give consumers a way to learn about what’s in the products they use on their skin and bodies. Today, SkinDeep—which is free to use and has a user-friendly, keyword-searchable interface—features health and safety profiles on 69,000 different cosmetics and personal care products.

“Our aim is to fill in where industry and government leave off,” reports EWG, whose researchers cross-reference hundreds of safety studies and nearly 60 toxicity and regulatory databases against thousands of product ingredient labels to help consumers find the safest cosmetics and personal care items.
Beyond searching for your most frequently used creams, gels and elixirs to get the low-down on their safety, users can also learn what to avoid by browsing the site’s “What Not to Buy” section. Harsh soaps, anything with chemical fragrances, many nail polishes and most dark permanent hair dyes top the list of products health-conscious consumers should steer clear of—or at least check out on SkinDeep. The website lists safer versions of all these product types for those who just can’t live without.

But public health advocates and environmentalists alike, of course, would prefer that all personal care products could be trusted to not be rash-inducing, carcinogenic or otherwise harmful. CSC has been lobbying Congress about the need for stricter laws and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight, and last year was instrumental in getting the Safe Cosmetics Act (HR 2359) introduced into the House of Representatives. While the bill stalled in committee, it would have required the FDA to create a list of specific contaminants likely to be found in certain cosmetics ingredients and provide testing protocols to determine which ones qualified for warning labels, phase-outs or outright bans. Whether a similar bill will come up again anytime soon remains to be seen. In the meantime, consumers should make sure to visit the SkinDeep database before lathering up.

CONTACTS: EWG’s SkinDeep Database; CSC.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

 

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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