Poor Community Bears the Brunt as ‘Racial-Ethnic Disparities’ Hit Bronx’s Asthma Alley
The low-income Bronx neighbourhood of Mott Haven, also known as “Asthma Alley”, is receiving some profile as an example of the “racial-ethnic disparities” in exposure to pollution captured in a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Community members, 97% of whom are Hispanic or African-American, are hospitalized for asthma at five times the U.S. average, and 21 times the rate for other New York neighbourhoods, The Guardian reports.
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“Residents inhale the emissions of the hundreds of daily trucks going in and out of the nearby Fresh Direct warehouse, and exhaust emitted by constant traffic on the four nearby highways, as well as from the printing presses of the Wall Street Journal, a parcel depot, and sewage works not far away,” the paper states. “While they’re physically closer to such sources of air pollution than most New Yorkers, they use Fresh Direct and read the Wall Street Journal at a lower rate, and generate a minuscule fraction of the vehicles humming along the adjacent expressways.”
The Guardian says the PNAS study “not only describes this as a kind of double bind—where an excessive burden is placed on the health of such a population by air pollution that’s disproportionately generated by white people’s consumption of goods and services—but it measures it.”
“Racial–ethnic disparities in pollution exposure and in consumption of goods and services in the U.S. are well documented,” the study stated. “Some may find it intuitive that, on average, black and Hispanic minorities bear a disproportionate burden from the air pollution caused mainly by non-Hispanic whites—but this effect has not previously been directly established, let alone quantified.”
Now, “what our research did was reinforce what communities of colour have been claiming for years,” said lead author Christopher Tessum.
Across the U.S., the study found Hispanic- and African-Americans are exposed to about 63 and 56% more air pollution, respectively, than their consumption is responsible for. And “among the many sources of air pollution in Mott Haven, Fresh Direct trucks are easy to spot,” The Guardian reports: while proponents saw the arrival of the company’s new facility last summer as a win-win, delivering 1,000 local jobs plus easier access to fresh food, environmental justice organizers with South Bronx Unite had warned about the impact of 1,000 daily truck trips to and from the plant.
Now that the facility is up and running, “we always see these trucks leaving the neighbourhood,” said SBU organizer Mychal Johnson. “I’ve almost never seen one stop here to deliver to a house.”
“This angers me so much,” said community gardener Daniel Chevroni, who’s lived most of his 62 years in Mott Haven and all of them with asthma, which he said is aggravated by the increase in pollution. “The food I consume in my mouth is my business and I have control of that, but when it’s the air, I cannot control it.”
Local resident José Pardo told The Guardian he saw advantages in having Fresh Direct in the neighbourhood. “Many of my friends work in the factory and live on the money they earn,” he said. “To me, the good outcomes of the Fresh Direct campus cancel out the bad.”
But “why should any human ever be forced to make a choice between air and a low-wage job?” Johnson asked. “Showing research hopefully will drive some solutions. It’s not enough for them that so many kids have asthma. If it was white kids…they wouldn’t have even put the [industrial] plants there.”