The number of APIs in the United States has grown four-fold in the last two decades, from 1.5 million in 1970 to 7.3 million in 1990 (still only 3% of the total population), largely as a result of increase immigration. Forty-eight percent of the API community has lived here for 20 years or less; some groups were virtually unrepresented in the US prior to 1970, such as the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Hmong, Samoans, and Tongans. These newer groups tend to have higher unemployment and poverty levels, lower educational levels, and significant numbers of “linguistically isolated” households in which no one speaks English well .
Environmentally, the API community faces many of the same hazards affecting other communities of color and low-income communities throughout the US. Although research related to APIs and their environments is sorely lacking, a landmark study by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice shows that nearly half of all Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans live in communities with uncontrolled waste sites .
Forty percent of the API community in the US resides in California, with the group making up over 10% of the state’s population. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where APIs make up over 30% of the population, the need for environmental protection is especially critical . Some of the environmental health and justice issues that APIs in the Bay Area face include:
- Fifty-three percent of all textile and apparel workers are Asian women, and 28% are Asian men working under unhealthy conditions due to overcrowding, poor ventilation and lighting, fire hazards, and daily exposure to chemicals such as formaldehyde and other dye preservatives .
- Many Asian-owned and operated dry cleaners use perchloroethylene, a carcinogen. Workers and their families are exposed to this toxic chemical .
- A large number of APIs work in the Bay Area’s micro-electronics assembly plants, and are exposed to carcinogenic solvents daily .
- A significant number of APIs engage in subsistence fishing, consuming contaminated fish as a result. Language barriers often prevent an awareness of the potential health risks.
- Santa Clara County, which has the second largest API population of any county in California, also has the most Superfund sites of any county in the entire US .
- San Francisco Chinatown is one of the most densely populated areas in the US, with eight square feet of open space per person. This is considerably lower than the National Recreation Association’s standard of 20 square feet per person .
API’s in Oakland and Richmond are overburdened by housing costs. 62% of those polled in Richmond and 50% of those polled in Oakland are overburdend by housing costs because they pay more than 30% of their income on rent.
In Oakland, the 2000 Census found that almost 17% of those without plumbing facilities were Asian and Pacific Islander households, even though Asians and Pacific Islanders make up 15% of the total population.