Quite the contrary: in late March the Environmental Protection Agency issued a near total suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws. The move came amid pressure from the oil industry, which claimed that potential staffing shortfalls during the pandemic would impede its ability to meet regulatory requirements. That means that petrochemical companies like Denka have free rein to keep polluting, making residents ever more vulnerable to the virus.The coronavirus “is not just a public health issue. It’s directly related to social equity and environmental justice challenges,” said Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s directly related to our fight for clean air and clean water and healthy environments.”
“We’re just here dying and waiting to die.”
Some government agencies are beginning to acknowledge the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus on African American communities. In a press conference on Monday, Governor John Bel Edwards revealed data showing that African Americans account for 70 percent of all of the deaths in Louisiana so far. They make up just 32 percent of the population. “That deserves more attention,” he said. “And we’ll have to dig into that and see what we can do to slow that trend down.” He noted that the most common pre-existing condition for people who have died in the state is hypertension, which studies have shown to be connected to air pollution, among other risk factors.But regional authorities overseeing the heart of the petrochemical industry in Louisiana have failed to acknowledge the role of environmental risk. In response to an inquiry from VICE , the Louisiana state health department said: “COVID-19 is a threat to every person in our state. There are confirmed cases in 62 out of 64 parishes. Each person should take mitigation efforts seriously and follow guidance to minimize the spread of this illness.”
African Americans account for 70 percent of all of the deaths in Louisiana so far. They make up just 32 percent of the population.