EarthTalk: How is it that Latino communities
are among those hardest hit by air pollution?
—Miguel Aragones, Los Angeles, CA
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
—Mary Pulaski, Trenton, NJ
vast majority of the 12,500 chemicals used by the
$50 billion beauty industry have never been assessed
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
“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.
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.
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
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.
SkinDeep Database; CSC.
SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM