Extreme heat
Extreme heat Via Pexels

Residents of minority neighborhoods that have been labeled risky for many years are reportedly suffering more from the heat due to fewer parks and trees in those areas.

Comparing New York City's health department's recent heat vulnerability maps and the 1930s redlining maps show a strong link between how areas were classified back then and where people were most likely to die from heat now, AP News reported.

Several environmental justice advocates believe redlining is the source of this environmental effect, as the government in the 1930s rated neighborhoods on the basis of their investment worthiness, which included discriminating against minority buyers.

This, in turn, led to a lack of resources in several minority neighborhoods, such as fewer parks and trees.

Ruben Berrios, a 66-year-old, who lives in a low-income area in New York's South Bronx, Mott Haven, explained that over 90% of the residents there are Latino or Black.

Each summer, the South Bronx becomes one of the hottest areas in the city, with temperatures 8 degrees (4.5 degrees Celsius) higher than the Upper West and East sides, which are greener and occupied generally by a white population.

The extreme heat has become the top cause of weather-related deaths in the country, killing an average of 350 New Yorkers each year, according to a city report.

"I lost two persons. They were close to me," Berrios recalled, AP News reported.

Executive director of the Nature Conservancy in New York Bill Ulfelder said, "Only a quarter of New York City's population is African American, but half of the deaths from heat are African Americans. So, there is something wildly disproportionate."

Ulfelder added, "Those heat islands — they really are in those historically redlined neighborhoods, and that's where the trees need to go."

A severe heat wave in Chicago killed 739 people in 1995 -- mostly poor, elderly and Black. Last year in Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix, Black people made up 11% of heat-related deaths, even though they were only 6.8% of the county's population.

A professor and historian of science at Harvard University noted that in the 1960s and 1980s heat waves in Memphis, Tennessee, "there were people who were too poor to turn on their air conditioning" and died.

South Bronx is now one of the city's lowest per-capita green spaces and it is filled with power plants, waste stations and highways that create a lot of noise and air pollution.

Residents deal with high rates of infant mortality, cognitive problems, heart disease and asthma, earning Mott Haven the nickname "asthma alley." These conditions make people more vulnerable to heat.

Executive director of the environmental justice group South Bronx Unite Arif Ullah said, "Environmental racism in the South Bronx is in full view."

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