Poor and minority residents in the Bay Area breathe and live with far more than their share of industrial and traffic pollution, according to the first analysis of the region's environmental disparities.

The stakes are high: Residents in neighborhoods closest to the pollution have higher lifetime cancer risks, greater rates of asthma and other breathing ailments, and, typically, less access to health care.

"The patterns are clear and indisputable," said Manuel Pastor, professor and director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who co-authored the report.

"Communities of color face greater exposure to air pollution and toxics. They bear a disproportionate burden and face greater hazards and risks than others in the Bay Area."

The report, "Still Toxic After All These Years," was released Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Francisco.

It documents environmental disparity in the nine-county Bay Area by examining several key pollution databases and comparing that data with neighborhood demographics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Among its findings:

Two-thirds of residents living within one mile of a pollution source regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — refineries, power plants, factories and other large industrial polluters — are minorities.


Advertisement

But of those living 21/2miles away or farther, two-thirds are white.

-Recent immigrants are nearly twice as likely to live within one mile of such a facility than they are to live 21/2 miles away.

-Given equal incomes, minorities are still more likely to live closer to pollution sources than whites.

"The report really confirms what many (minority) community residents have experienced for years," said Amy Cohen, campaign director for the Bay Area Environmental Health Collaborative, which helped sponsor the analysis.

"They know the pollution sources are closest to them. They know they live near the highways and the large (pollution) facilities."

And they bear the brunt of the grave consequences of living near such pollution.

Last month in the British medical journal The Lancet, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, who had studied children over time reported that living near a freeway saddles children with a lifetime's worth of decreased lung capacity and function.

Rubye Sherrod sees this. The North Richmond community activist spends her days working with children afflicted with respiratory ailments, trying, as she says, "to keep the kids in school and not in the emergency room."

Upward of 60 percent of the children in her community carry an inhaler, she said.

"There are so many issues I don't know where to start," she said. "We're in the midst of all these refineries. ... There are too many big rigs in these communities. There's just a lot of undesirable activity going on."

"There's been too much suffering for too many years," Sherrod added. "The people who can help haven't paid any attention to what's going on or simply don't care. I'm not sure."

Contact Douglas Fischer at dfischer@angnewspapers.com or at 208-6425.