Population Health

March 16, 2022

Pollution disparities persist for communities of color across the United States

View of a power plant emitting smokeDespite the overall decline in air pollutant concentrations across the United States over the past 30 years, a team of researchers led by University of Washington professor Julian Marshall recently conducted a study that found communities of color are continually disproportionately affected by the negative effects of air pollution, such as heart disease, cancer and cognitive decline.

In pursuit of this conclusion, the team developed a model that tracks exposure to major air pollutants across census data points to examine the effects of each pollutant on specific socioeconomic groups. They analyzed the absolute and relative disparities for six different air pollutants for four racial-ethnic groups over the course of two decades (1990-2010). The air pollutants they tracked were nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter – both larger particles (PM10) and smaller particles (PM2.5), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3), and the racial-ethnic groups analyzed included Asian, Black, Hispanic and White. The model indicates estimated exposure to each pollutant for each group based on data from satellites and Environmental Protection Agency monitoring stations.

By determining the increased exposure to air pollutants for communities of color, the hope is that acknowledging these clear disparities in scientific literature will both validate the ongoing concerns of these communities and lead to changes in the future regarding air pollution in these areas.

The team’s results were published in Environmental Health Perspectives this past December.

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