Milwaukee County officials declared racism a public health crisis this week, issuing a resolution recognizing the county’s “responsibility to address racism, including seeking solutions to reshape the discourse, actively engaging all citizens in racial justice work.” The Journal Sentinel quotes Nicole Brookshire, director of the Office on African American Affairs: "We understand that Milwaukee’s racial inequities are historical, complex and interrelated… That’s why we need everyone at the table as we work to move the needle towards empowerment and employing good government strategies to tackle the comprehensive issues experienced by many African Americans in Milwaukee." The resolution calls for Milwaukee County to “assess internal policies and procedures to make sure racial equity is a core element of the county; work to create an inclusive organization and identify specific activities to increase diversity; incorporate inclusion and equity, and offer educational training to expand employees' understanding of how racism affects people; advocate for policies that improve health in communities of color; [and] encourage other local, state and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis.”
A 10-year-old girl died while in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement in 2018; her death had not been reported publicly. On May 20, a teenage boy, Carlo Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, from Guatemala became the sixth migrant child to die in US custody. Vox reports that “Before December 2018, no children had died in CBP custody in a decade… it’s becoming increasingly clear that the government is in the midst of a broader public health crisis regarding migrants, especially children, in its care. The processing center in the Rio Grande Valley where Hernandez Vazquez had been held is in the midst of an apparent flu outbreak; on Tuesday night, the government announced it would stop sending migrants there, essentially quarantining it. In recent weeks, pictures of children being held outside — having to sleep on the ground — have raised alarms, as temperatures climb into summer.”
A new report from the Urban Institute proposes four strategies to help overcome structural racism and racial inequities: “For most of its history, the United States excluded people of color from its main pathways of opportunity and upward mobility, causing deep inequities across many aspects of life. But we can imagine a more equitable future in which structural racism—the policies, programs, and institutional practices that generated inequitable outcomes—and its consequences are remedied… In the face of these profound challenges, civic leaders, advocates, elected officials, and philanthropists are taking action and advancing bold ideas to promote equity and expand access to opportunity. We focus here on solutions aimed at closing the wealth gap, providing quality public schools in all communities, closing gaps in employment and earnings, and ending punitive policing.”
A new study demonstrates how redlined neighborhoods – labeled “hazardous” credit risks – have become hazardous to residents’ health. “A new study finds that people who live in historically redlined neighborhoods are more than twice as likely as others to go to the emergency room for asthma. The new research from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco, links decades of residential segregation to new findings of environmental racism. Disparities in housing contribute to disparities in the morbidity of asthma—one of the most common chronic diseases afflicting children… Last year, the researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Center for Environmental Assessment concluded that people of color are far more likely to breathe polluted air than their white counterparts. Majority-black neighborhoods are more likely to be located near sources of pollution, according to a study that examined living patterns at “national, state, and county scales.”… But this new research shows that segregation means more than opportunities deferred or denied. Environmental racism is a present danger for communities of color. As a chronic disease that affects more children than adults, asthma is an especially pernicious symptom of racial segregation—a threat to health and wellbeing, but also an impediment to growth, education, and development.
The New York Times reports on contaminated water systems in California’s Central Valley: “Water is a currency in California, and the low-income farmworkers who pick the Central Valley’s crops know it better than anyone. They labor in the region’s endless orchards, made possible by sophisticated irrigation systems, but at home their faucets spew toxic water tainted by arsenic and fertilizer chemicals. “Clean water flows toward power and money,” said Susana De Anda, a longtime water-rights organizer in the region. She is the daughter of lechugueros who worked in lettuce fields and helped make California one of the agricultural capitals of the world. “Homes, schools and clinics are supposed to be the safest places to go. But not in our world.” … Today, more than 300 public water systems in California serve unsafe drinking water, according to public compliance data compiled by the California State Water Resources Control Board. It is a slow-motion public health crisis that leaves more than one million Californians exposed to unsafe water each year, according to public health officials. Though water contamination is a problem up and down the state, the failing systems are most heavily concentrated in small towns and unincorporated communities in the Central and Salinas Valleys, the key centers of California agriculture.”
ProPublica reports in depth on how local zoning policies in Connecticut enforce residential segregation by race and economic class: “Westport is only one example of a wealthy Connecticut suburb that has surrounded itself with invisible walls to block affordable housing and, by extension, the people who need it. In a liberal state that has provided billions in taxpayer money to create more affordable housing, decisions at local zoning boards, the Connecticut Capitol and state agencies have thwarted court rulings and laws intended to remedy housing segregation. As far back as data has been kept, Connecticut’s low-income housing has been concentrated in poor cities and towns, an imbalance that has not budged over the last three decades… Many zoning boards rely on their finely tuned regulations to keep housing segregation firmly in place. They point to frail public infrastructure, clogged streets, a lack of sidewalks and concerns of overcrowding that would damage what’s often referred to as “neighborhood character.”
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change how it calculates health risks associated with air pollution to lower estimates of predicted deaths – a move that would make it easier to roll back environmental protections. The New York Times reports that “the E.P.A. had originally forecast that eliminating the Obama-era rule, the Clean Power Plan, and replacing it with a new measure would have resulted in an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year. The new analytical model would significantly reduce that number and would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules if it is formally adopted… The proposed shift is the latest example of the administration downgrading the estimates of environmental harm from pollution in regulations. In this case, the proposed methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. Many experts said that approach was not scientifically sound and that, in the real world, there are no safe levels of the fine particulate pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels.” As the federal government rolls back environmental protections, some states are stepping in to fill the gap. The Washington Post reports on new environmental protections at the state level: “In recent months, Hawaii, New York and California have moved to ban a widely used agricultural pesticide linked to neurological problems in children, even as the administration has resisted such restrictions. Michigan and New Jersey are pushing to restrict a ubiquitous class of chemical compounds that have turned up in drinking water, saying they can no longer wait for the Environmental Protection Agency to take action. Colorado and New Mexico have adopted new policies targeting greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel drilling and limiting where these operations can take place. And more than a dozen states have adopted policies that would force automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars than required by federal standards…”
The Texas Legislature passed a bill to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 years of age. If the bill becomes law, Texas would become the 14th state to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. The Texas Tribune reports that, “Texas' moves on the tobacco age are in line with a national trend. Last month, representatives in both the U.S. House and Senate introduced legislation to raise the national purchase age for tobacco from 18 to 21. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the tobacco industry have also expressed support for such legislation, though Politico reported last month that anti-tobacco advocates fear the efforts are a "Trojan horse" to block other, more proven measures to reduce youth smoking such as flavor bans and higher taxes on tobacco products.
This year in Arizona, Republican state Sen. Heather Carter introduced Tobacco 21 legislation similar to the health groups’ model bill, but it failed to get a hearing. Juul and Altria threw their support behind an alternative bill that would raise the tobacco age to 21 but would invalidate – or “pre-empt” – some stricter local laws on smoking and vaping, such as bans on tobacco advertisements near schools or on park benches.
"It’s tying the hands of city councils who are approached by citizens who want to limit the use and sale of tobacco," said Tom Savage, legislative associate for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.