It’s too hot to be your Negro today: the impact of indoor pollution and global warming on the African diaspora

It’s too hot to be your Negro today: the impact of indoor pollution and global warming on the African diaspora

The fight for Black people to get their share of protection under the Clean Air Act (CAA) has been going on since 1963, the year the CAA was introduced. The CAA was the first federal law that had embedded a statute to control air pollution, not just observe air pollution, but control it. The CAA in 1970 created and then directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set minimally safe acceptable standards for pollution activities by corporations and individuals. 

The EPA does not have a firm racial justice policy in regards to enforcing the CAA. Not amongst the people who get the contracts to build and design homes and not amongst the Black community that is still disproportionately impacted by racist policies that have the Black community living in neighborhoods with the most unclean air in the United States.

The EPA did not open an Environmental Justice office until 1992, and as we have come to learn, justice that is not bespoke may not be a good fit or a solution. It is like giving an adult a child’s coat. Bespoke justice tailors justice for the situation. 

The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office has Section 3

Wherever HUD financial assistance is expended for housing or community development, to the greatest extent feasible, economic opportunities will be given to Section 3 residents and businesses in that area. 

That is the beginning of justice. There is no such language at the EPA.

And this matters, because in the United States, safety begins with the white community while experiments are initiated on the Black one.

Your race does determine the air that you breathe. In the study “National patterns in environmental injustice and inequality: outdoor NO₂ air pollution in the United States” by Clark, Millet, Dylan & Marshall, it was discovered that your race had a more considerable impact on the air you breathe than your income. 

A high-income POC is exposed to more deadly pollutants than a low-income white person. 

“National patterns in environmental injustice and inequality: outdoor NO2 air pollution in the United States” Clark, Millet, Dylan & Marshall, (2014)

The Clark, Millet, Dylan & Marshal study examined Twin Cities, New York, and several other big cities throughout the United States.

Racism in policy implementation has created scenarios such as those experienced by Linda Daniels.

Daniels was a 68-year-old in Newark who died in a 2018 heatwave. It was not an anomaly. It was, sadly, a trend.

A trend we call by various names — heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, a trend that can be caused and exacerbated by heat and exposure to indoor pollutants.

Heat and indoor pollution kill African Americans inside their homes disproportionally compared to other racial groups. Seniors and children die of all racial groups, Black seniors and Black children die more.

The average person in the US spends 93% (EPA) of their life indoors.

Indoor air pollution can be up to ten times worse than outdoor pollution owing to the fact that once pollution gets into your home, it builds up, and it’s harder for it to vent.

“Non-Hispanic Blacks are consistently overrepresented in communities with the poorest air quality.”

“Making the environmental justice grade” Miranda, Edwards, Keating, & Paul, C. J. (2011)


There is a relative burden of air pollution and this is the fact even among African Americans who are not poor, because even middle-class African-Americans are hyper-segregated into polluted death traps.

According to the report Deaths Attributed to Heat, Cold, and Other Weather Events in the United States, 2006-10 by the CDC, African Americans are more likely to die from heatstroke than any other racial group.

Black people can take the heat more than other racial groups is not only a stereotype, but a harmful one.

Radon, which is the second leading cause of lung cancer, is also disproportionately in African American homes. A study of housing tracts in DeKalb County, Georgia found a higher proportion of African Americans had radon in their homes in comparison to the rest of the county (82% versus 47%). 

And though indoor pollution is deadly, remember outdoor pollution is still harmful. According to the American Lung Association, an estimated 141 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Black and Latino communities are more likely to have exposure to higher levels of air pollution. This chronic exposure may worsen underlying diseases, including many that represent risk factors for severe COVID-19.

Pollution is a global issue for the African diaspora. A UK coroner ruled a 9-year-old Black girl was killed by air pollution, a legal first in the West. Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah lived by an arterial road in London and was hospitalized 30 times for breathing problems. 

Racial environmental justice includes access to air conditioning, proper ventilation, and homes and schools that are contaminate-free, including lead, other heavy metals, asbestos, and other fiber pollutants and gasses like radon and aromatic chemical compounds. 

It is about our comfort now and about preventing us from getting cancer 20 years from now.

We need justice in our homes, businesses, and air in the US, UK, Canada, and wherever we breathe.


Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals

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