As Pennsylvania plans to build more natural gas power plants, a new study shows that communities of color live in closer proximity than any other group to these plants, which can cause serious illnesses.

The study, titled “Pernicious Placement of Pennsylvania Power Plants,” was released today (June 20) by Food & Water Watch. Using Pennsylvania as a case study for the environmental racism implications of the American fracking industry, researchers studied the location of the state’s 136 existing, new and proposed fossil fuel-fired power plants. Per the report:

Food & Water Watch studied the location of Pennsylvania power plants (coal, oil and natural gas) and found that the existing power plants were disproportionately located near disadvantaged communities—areas with lower incomes, higher economic stress, lower educational levels and/or communities of color. The proposed gas plants would only reinforce the environmental injustice of siting polluting power plants in more marginalized communities, including rural areas. 

Fracking is an extraction process that involves injecting water mixed with sand and chemicals into the ground to release hidden natural gas and oil. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report that said fracking can adversely impact drinking water.

Fracking can also impact air quality. The new Food & Water Watch report states, “In Pennsylvania, African Americans and Latinos are considerably more likely to experience health effects from air pollution than Whites. The Pennsylvania asthma hospitalization rate was over five times higher for African-American children and nearly three times higher for Latino children than for White children.”

Using Census data, researchers discovered that people of color are 39 percent of the population living within three miles of existing and proposed power plants, though they are only 22 percent of Pennsylvania’s total population. In addition, the poverty rate is 60 percent higher within three miles of the plants compared to the rest of the state.

These disparities are reflective of numbers for the rest of the country. A 2012 study by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People found that people of color are 39 percent of the population within three miles of the coal-fired power plants throughout the nation. And a 2017 study by PSE Healthy Energy revealed that half of California’s gas-fired power plants were located in communities designated as disadvantaged.

Researchers concluded that Pennsylvania should ban fracking and switch to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by the year 2035. In addition to reducing the health risks associated with fracking, the study’s authors argue Pennsylvania would experience economic benefits from a switch to renewable energy. Many states, including Maryland, Vermont and New York, have already banned fracking.