The people of the San Joaquin Valley are feeling some of the worst health effects of California’s drought. The lack of moisture has exacerbated existing air-quality problems in the state’s agricultural heartland, affecting those suffering from asthma—which could be up to nearly a quarter of the population. Nitrate levels from agricultural runoff are creeping up in the groundwater supplies of many communities, leaving what little water is left undrinkable.
Who are these hard-hit people? They are mostly poor and non-White. And with or without drought, California’s environmental hazards are disproportionately shouldered by people of color. That’s what researchers at U.C. Berkeley and the California Environmental Protection Agency have found, using an EPA tool that measures multiple “pollution burdens”—such as pesticide exposure, hazardous waste, traffic density, and water contamination—as well as population characteristics for all of California’s zip codes. It pops out a “cumulative impact score” for each area.
Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study found staggering results: Hispanics were 6.2 times more likely than Whites to live in the most affected zip codes. African-Americans were 5.8 times more likely. Native Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and multiracial individuals also faced higher odds than Whites. Statewide, the San Joaquin Valley and the Greater Los Angeles area had the most zip codes in the top 10 percent of worst scoring places.