04/06/2012 10:41 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Black With Asthma

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.

Read More About Asthma

Read More About Air Pollution and the African American Community