You know how sometimes a talking head can make you so agitated that you want to yell at the screen? I felt that way listening to the recent testimony of Harry C. Alford, the President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, during a Senate committee hearing.
"Stop playing politics with our children!"
Mr. Alford was testifying on the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards; he is against them. His position is that ending mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants will harm black businesses. Alford declared:
"Poverty brings far worse health than mercury coming out of a coal plant or utility plant. Violence, crime. These kids that I see are far more likely to get a bullet in the head than asthma. [emphasis spoken] And that's the reality of it and that's because of the economic consequences of bad policy and practices -- much of which comes from Capitol Hill."
The fact is, African American children are far more likely to develop asthma than get a bullet to their heads. And African American parents -- all parents -- should be furious about it.
In 2006, asthma prevalence was 20.1 percent higher in African Americans than in whites. A recent study revealed that one-quarter of the children in New York City's Harlem have asthma. The following national statistics are even more jarring:
African American children have a:
• 260 percent higher emergency room visit rate.
• 250 percent higher hospitalization rate.
• 500 pecent higher death rate from asthma, as compared with White children.
African Americans are often at a disadvantage, because 68 percent of African-Americans (compared to 56 percent of Whites) live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant -- the distance within which the maximum ill effects of the emissions from smokestacks occur.
So in fact, reducing air pollution -- and the outpouring of mercury, a potent neurotoxin that disproportionately harms the developing brains, hearts and lungs of fetuses, babies, and toddlers -- is a social justice issue of profound significance. It would be better for all businesses -- African American and all others -- not to have to carry the burden of high health care costs, to say nothing of the heartbreak of suffering.