Pollution in the United States poses health risks for everyone, regardless of race, language, age or country of origin. A large percentage of U.S. Latinos, however, live and work in agricultural and urban areas where they face a heightened risk of exposure to air pollution, unsafe drinking water, and pesticides.
For years, the dangers of pesticides have been in the news as have reports of the serious and often fatal illnesses those pesticides cause. Between 30 and 50 million kilograms of pesticides are applied to lawns in the United States each year in hopes of killing the pests that kill the lawns. With most, if not all pesticides, all ingredients are not required to be listed on the label. There are almost 5,000 ingredients that are legally permitted to be a part of a pesticide’s formula without being listed on the label. Benzene and formaldehyde are just two of the many toxic chemicals that need not be listed.
According to the Safer Pest Control Project, people living in homes using pesticides face increased risk of leukemia, brain cancer, lymphoma and asthma. Pesticides are very easily tracked indoors and can accumulate inside homes. When used properly, however, pesticides offer many benefits; pesticides increase crop production, preserve produce, fight insect infestations, and help to control exotic species. However, it is estimated that there are approximately 10,000-20,000 pesticide poisonings in the United States each year.
Despite the serious, and sometimes fatal risks, government officials have largely overlooked the impact of environmental hazards on the health of Latinos. Relevant data has not been collected, and few studies have been conducted to assess the health threats in Latino communities. Warnings about environmental health risks are often not provided in Spanish, so if a warning is posted, Spanish-speaking citizens would not even be able to read it.
Many Hispanics are left without the information they need to evaluate the risks to their health from environmental contaminants at their jobs and in their neighborhoods.
Below are just some of the risks the Latino population faces:
§ 88% of farm workers in the U.S. are Latinos facing daily pesticide exposure
§ 1/3 of Latinos live in Western states where arsenic, industrial chemicals, and fertilizer residues often contaminate water supplies
§ Twice as many Hispanic children than non-Hispanic children are likely to have lead in their blood at levels higher than the level established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for risk of lead poisoning
§ 91% of Hispanics in the U.S. live in metropolitan areas where polluted air increases the risk of asthma and some types of cancer
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