Roughly 17 million people in the U.S. live within a mile of an oil or gas well — putting them at higher risk of health problems like heart disease, breathing issues, anxiety and depression, and complications during pregnancy, a growing body of research shows. But all is not equal when it comes to who exactly lives near oil wells — and intentional racial discrimination in federal mortgage policies, reflected in a practice known as “redlining,” may have played a role, according to a new study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. There are nearly twice as many oil and gas wells in neighborhoods that were redlined in the 1930s, the study found. That pattern was visible in 33 cities across 13 states where oil and gas wells were drilled, and drilling in those neighborhoods intensified after the federal government issued redlining maps.
As Americans across the country peeked at their federally stimulated bank accounts last week, Dr. David R. Williams of Harvard University issued an urgent call to action. As chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences in Harvard’s public health school, Williams focuses on the effects of discrimination and social influences on health. “The striking disparities we are seeing are not a result of the families who are experiencing them,” Williams said in a national press briefing. “Instead they are a result of longstanding policies. Coronavirus is highlighting this for us.” That concept was echoed over and over by historians speaking to Billy Penn about what the federal stimulus funds could mean for communities of color in Philadelphia.