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May 22, 2020

Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Sherrill Holds Teleconference on Air Pollution Exposure and COVID-19 Impacts

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Environment held a teleconference with Mr. Dan Greenbaum, President of the Health Effects Institute; Dr. Rashid Shaikh, Director of Science Emeritus at the Health Effects Institute, and Dr. Francesca Dominici, Professor of Biostatistics, Population and Data Science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Co-Director of the Data Science Initiative at Harvard University to explore recent research developments and needs for further studies to understand the links between air pollution exposure and impacts of COVID-19, especially in low-income and minority communities.

“With the second-highest infection rate in the country, New Jersey has been especially hard-hit by this pandemic,” said Chairwoman Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) of the Subcommittee on Environment. “While no community is immune to the impacts of COVID-19, I’m troubled by the disparate impact to communities of color. In New Jersey, where racial and ethnic data on COVID-19 cases are being collected, Hispanics and African Americans account for 25.8% and 25.7% of positive COVID-19 cases, despite making up just 20.6% and 15% of the State’s population. As we continue to discuss ways to make our environment cleaner, and more just, for generations to come we must not forget our nation’s history of racial and economic injustice and the health outcomes it’s led to.”

In addition to discussing the findings of the Harvard University study, the Members and panelists on the call discussed how the current economic slowdown is impacting air pollution and what effect these temporary changes to air quality have on public health. Additionally, participants of the call examined how recent actions by the EPA could impact air quality in the United States and the consequences of those actions regarding the COVID-19 crisis. Members and panelists also focused on how low-income and minority communities in the U.S. are impacted by air pollution and the stark racial and economic disparities in outcomes of COVID-19 cases, as well as opportunities for future research.

“I am disappointed that despite the toll that COVID-19 is taking on communities already burdened by respiratory illness, the Environmental Protection Agency has opted to relax enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other important environmental laws during this time,” said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “The EPA is also continuing its agenda of rolling back critical environmental protections, and has proposed maintaining the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter.”