Ethnic minority groups are exposed to higher concentrations of air pollution in the US, new study shows

Ethnic minorities and low-income groups in the U.S are exposed to higher levels of air pollution, according to a new study published by the Harvard School of Public Health. 

In collaboration with the Environmental Systems Research Institute, the authors developed a new platform linking 17-years worth of demographic data with data on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution from across the US. 

They found that areas, where white and Native American populations are overrepresented, have been consistently exposed to average PM2.5 levels that are lower than those in areas where Black, Asian, and Hispanic or Latino populations are overrepresented.

For example, in 2016, the average PM2.5 concentration for the Black population was 13.7% higher than that of the white population and 36.3% higher than that of the Native American population.

man sitting inside car on street during daytime

The researchers also found that from 2004 to 2016, areas of the U.S. with lower income groups have been exposed to higher average PM2.5 levels than areas with higher income groups. 

In addition, relative disparities in exposure to PM2.5 in relation to safety standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization have been increasing over time among racial/ethnic groups, according to the study.

Francesca Dominici, senior author of the study said: ‘Our study, which highlights the relative disparities in PM2.5 exposure in the U.S, is particularly timely given current crises the country is facing, such as a reckoning with racism as well as disparities in Covid-19 outcomes.

‘Our findings regarding relative disparities indicate the importance of strong, targeted air-pollution-reduction strategies, not only to reduce overall air-pollution levels but also to move closer toward the Environmental Protection Agency’s aim to provide all people with the same degree of protection from environmental hazards.

In related news, Air Quality News presents exclusive data highlighting the connection between air pollution and deprivation



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