Op-Ed

COVID-19 Keeps Earth Day’s Air Clean, But Will the Government?

April 22, 2020 / By La’Tonya Troutman, ECJ Chair of the LaPorte County Branch

La'Tonya Troutman - Laporte County Bramch

On April 22, we celebrate Earth Day, when everyone comes together to show their support for environmental protections. Yet, government officials continue to overlook the need for clean air standards. Although the COVID-19 lockdown has led to cleaner air due to self-isolation, many government officials have yet to put a plan in place that will reduce air pollution in the long run.

Coronavirus research indicates that individuals residing in the most vulnerable communities experiencing higher levels of air pollution exposure are among high-risk groups for the Coronavirus. Unfortunately, the air in many African American communities violates air quality standards for ozone smog. Data suggests that African Americans are 75 percent more likely to live near oil and gas facilities exposing their lungs to 38 percent more polluted air. An important fact to consider is the disproportionate mortality burden African American and Latino communities are experiencing. African Americans and Latinos suffered 32 percent and 24 percent of the total COVID-19 related deaths respectively.

Over time, poor air quality exposes vulnerable communities to greater health risk including high-risk cases of COVID-19. Air pollution, especially long-term exposure, causes severe illnesses such as; respiratory infection, stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer over time. Individuals with these underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe cases of COVID 19. Clean air quality standards and environmental protection will help reduce air pollution.

There is a long history of large corporations taking advantage of communities that have a low level of political power. Life-threatening burdens are placed on these vulnerable low-income communities and communities of color experiencing generations of poor air quality. For decades, these toxic facilities have emitted mercury, arsenic, lead, and other contaminants into the air and lungs of nearby residents breathing in the fumes coming across their fence line. Yet still, the government does nothing while communities such as Little Village suffer increased air pollution and residents wait for the dust to settle from the demolition of their coal power plant during a pandemic that is heightened by respiratory issues.

Earth Day is an opportune time to address environmental concerns impacting air, water, and soil: Earth’s key components. Pollution to Earth’s key components decreases the quality of life for those of us living here. In order to protect our planet and create a clean, healthy, and sustainable habitat for people and Wildlife alike, we must move towards a just transition. This transition will move us towards clean renewable energy and transportation that will significantly reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and impact future pandemics. This Earth Day, the Coronavirus pandemic causes immediate attention in creating clean air quality standards and environmental protection standards.

Creating a healthy planet with healthy people starts with fresh, clean, air. If the government is going to continue to weaken clean air standards, relaxing the regulations as the pandemic pushes forward, we will all suffer. It is now time to create a clean air contingency plan that will look to the future and prepare an air quality standard that will sustain us through major catastrophes addressing the preventative measures for the worst-case scenarios.

Clean air not only reduces the toxins emitted in the air but also lowers the risk of mortality from underlying medical conditions. Clean air will also slow down the impact of COVID-19 as well as its mortality rate. A clean air ordinance in vulnerable communities should have already been in place to help curb the effects COVID 19 has had. Unfortunately, many governmental leaders failed to put a clean air ordinance in place prior to COVID-19. Being proactive is always better than being reactive. Although you can’t turn back the hands of time, Earth day is the perfect day to put things in place as they should be such as a clean air ordinance that will protect those vulnerable communities and the Earth as a whole.

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