What Are You Breathing?

view of downtown LA skyline through the polluted fogLatinos are known for living in tight-knit communities, where neighborhood mechanics take care of your car the same day and you are never too far from an elotero. Latinos are hard workers and heavy commuters, but could all this hustle and bustle be harming the community? There is definitely something in the air.

A recent study shows that communities of color and those with low education, high poverty and low employment face greater health risks even if the air quality meets federal health standards. Tiny particles of air pollution that contain a mixture of hazardous materials like metals gases, and chemicals can be found in the air that they breathe. Living near refineries, coal-fired power plants and busy roads exposes neighborhoods to these pollution cocktails.

In communities like Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles, where the population is over 90 percent Latino and is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, there are “multiple auto body shops and chrome-platers in close proximity to the neighborhoods,” said Susan Nakamura, planning manager for the region’s South Coast Air Quality Management District. It’s places like these and the many freeways close by that cause pollution in the area.

Census tracts with a larger proportion of Latinos had significantly higher levels of 11 substances, including more than 1.5 times the whites’ exposure to nickel, nitrate, silicon, vanadium and aluminum.

Why Latinos are affected in bigger cities like Los Angeles is speculated to be partly due to the “L.A. Effect.” Large quantities of Latinos living in the most populated cities contribute to the already high pollution, and though that may sound simple enough, recent research shows that the same amount of pollution may harm poor people more than wealthy people due to stress from social and economic conditions.

In a study by the American Lung Association, Latinos are among the top ethnic group affected by asthma, a chronic lung disease that is found in people with the same traits as listed above: low-education levels, limited opportunities for employment and high poverty rates. In addition, many Latinos across the country work in agriculture, construction or factories that allow for them to be exposed to other hazardous chemicals, outside from where they live.

It is estimated that over 3 million Latinos in the United States have asthma, with Puerto Ricans being hit extremely hard by the disease. Mexican-Americans have the lowest rates, although there is evidence that suggest they are significantly under-diagnosed.