Environmental racism; chemicals in Latin, Indigenous communities water
Drinking water in Latin and Indigenous communities shows traces of uranium and arsenic.
A report published by The Verge on Wednesday detailed the gruesome results of an analysis conducted on levels of uranium and arsenic contamination in the drinking water of Latino and Native American communities in the US.
According to the research which was published in December in the journal Nature Communications, these two specific communities happen to reside in areas where drinking water presents "significantly higher" concentrations of the toxic substances.
The report also states that Black residents have also been affected by high levels of contamination in specific residential areas in the US.
"The racial and ethnic makeup of your community should really not be connected to the quality of the water that you drink. And this is something that needs to be taken very seriously," says Irene Martinez-Morata, lead author of the research and PhD candidate in environmental health sciences at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.
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Traces of uranium and arsenic in drinking water are often found in many community water systems across the nation, but they usually fall below the Environmental Protection Agency's limits.
But Martinez-Morata's research found that specific residential areas with different demographic makeups presented higher levels of pollution concentration compared to other counties.
For instance, in counties that presented a 10% larger proportion of Latino residents, researchers found a 17% higher concentration of uranium and a 6% higher concentration of arsenic in their drinking water.
Likewise, in counties that presented a 10% larger proportion of Native Americans and Alaska Natives, they found a 2% higher concentration of uranium and a 7% higher concentration of Arsenic.
As for counties where the proportion of non-Hispanic Black residents was 10% higher, the level of arsenic and uranium in drinking water was found to fluctuate between 1 and 6%.
No way Jackson Mississippi, the CAPITOL of Mississippi, should have all these water issues.— Big G (@Alwayz_Winning) December 26, 2022
The city is overwhelming Black and Brown and they have boil water notice every few months
It’s environmental racism at play due to the lack of funding placed into the infrastructure.
Although the research doesn't delve into how such discrepancies were shaped, it is a factual given that people of color have always endured the brunt of environmental racism.
Colonial states, such as the US and Canada, have always sought ways to prioritize the health of a specific category of individuals - usually its settler population, in particular whites.
Other studies have shown how, for instance, Blacks and Latino populations are disproportionally exposed to higher concentrations of toxins in the air they breathe in specific counties and residential areas.
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This particular study examined uranium levels in the water systems of 1,174 different counties and arsenic levels in 2,585 counties from 2000 until 2011.
Although low levels were detected in two-thirds of the EPA's records, it is still unclear what low levels of uranium could really affect the body - that is, below the EPA’s regulated limit of 30 micrograms per liter.
"But while researchers are still trying to understand what low levels of uranium exposure do to the body, doctors say there’s no real safe amount for humans," the report states
"Chronic exposure to high levels of uranium have been linked to a heightened risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, and lung cancer. Arsenic, meanwhile, is a known carcinogen."
While uranium contamination can occur in natural ways, because uranium traces happen to be naturally present in the Earth's crust, humans are in greater part to blame due to their mining activities, which pollute the water with uranium or contaminate it with pesticides produced out of arsenic.
"That legacy of pollution has been linked to kidney disease, cancer, and a neuropathic syndrome in children."
Several Indigenous communities have fought for decades to ward off miners and big contributors to pollution, and they continue to do so.
In September 2022, the EPA announced it created a new Office of Environmental Justice and Civil Rights focused on achieving environmental justice and protecting civil rights.
Martinez-Morata said she hopes her research findings will be used to serve this purpose.
"I hope that our work serves practical applications, and at least as a call for action," she told The Verge.
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