Polluting factories, photo by unsplash

By Michael Hirschfield, age 13

Environmental racism could be a contributing factor for why Black communities have faced more serious illness and death due to COVID-19 than white people.

Environmental racism is a term which refers to the disproportionate targeting of poor communities of color when large corporations build factories, water treatment plants or other polluting sites. These locations are often cheaper, and therefore targeted by companies that put profit first. The air becomes polluted in these locations as a result, which can lead to nearby residents developing asthma and other lung diseases.

Some studies have drawn a connection between asthma and increased pollution, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) advises that people with asthma or other lung diseases are more vulnerable to dying from COVID-19.

The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) states, “In Illinois, African-Americans are dying from the virus at five times the rate of white residents.” The coronavirus is disproportionately affecting low-income neighborhoods, which also tend to be communities of color. These poorer communities are often much more densely packed, and crowded living conditions make it easier for the virus to spread. Residents in these communities have difficulty gaining access to healthcare services and resources, like masks or gloves. “Vulnerable populations are particularly at risk for insufficient health insurance coverage; people with lower incomes are often uninsured. And minorities account for over half of the uninsured population,” according to HealthyPeople.gov. Johns Hopkins Medicine also points out that a lot of these residents are “essential workers,” which again puts them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

President Trump has been heavily criticized for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly his lack of concern for those disproportionately affected, like people of color. Journalist Derrick Z. Jackson writes on Grist that Trump “has spent more time defending Confederate monuments than voicing concern over [people of color] dying at more than double the rate of white Americans.”

Environmental racism has been going on for decades. Regulating or eliminating corporate polluters is important not only to stop giving diseases to people in these communities, but also to create a healthier and cleaner environment. “One key to improving equity is gathering more accurate race-, ethnic- and neighborhood-specific data,” according to Dr. Sherita Hill Golden, vice president and chief diversity officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Knowing who is affected by the coronavirus and who is bearing the most burden is critical to addressing imbalances in testing and treatment.”