Study: Detroit area’s black kids face high asthma rates

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Detroit is the 10th worst metropolitan area nationally for asthma attacks in African-American children caused by exposure to oil and gas pollution, a new study has found.

The study, called “Fumes Across the Fence-Line,” found that African-American children in southeast Michigan suffer 2,402 asthma attacks annually caused by oil and gas pollution in the air and miss 1,751 days of school.

Released Tuesday by the the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Clean Air Task Force and the National Medical Association, the analysis found that people of color are disproportionately impacted by oil and gas pollution.

Though Michigan has just one oil refinery — the Marathon Oil Refinery in southwest Detroit — the state ranks fourth in the nation for the number of African-Americans who live in counties with an oil refinery, according to the report.

The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area had the most asthma attacks among African-American children, with 8,059 attacks and 5,896 school days lost, the study found. Next were Atlanta, with 7,499 asthma attacks and 5,469 missed school days; and the Washington-Baltimore area with 7,216 attacks causing 5,269 absences.

About 6.7 million African-Americans live in 91 U.S. counties that have an oil refinery, the study found. And more than one million live within a half mile of an existing natural gas facility, placing them at increased risk of respiratory diseases, cancer, neurological conditions and other health problems.

Dr. Doris Brown, a medical oncologist and president of the National Medical Association, which represents more than 50,000 African American medical professionals, said pollution can be deadly for African-American children. About 13 percent of African-American children have asthma, compared to 7 percent of white children.

“The death rate for African-American children with asthma is one per million, compared with one in 10 million for whites,” Brown said.

William Copeland, a climate justice leader with the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, said the combined emissions from a number of oil- and gas-related facilities, as well as fumes from trucks and other diesel fueled vehicles, make the air dangerous to breathe in some Detroit neighborhoods.

“I really hope that our local leaders ... pay attention to this report to see that health is not just an individual problem but its also related to pollution,” Copeland said. “And I hope that our health leaders can advocate for the proper environmental protections.”