Lockdown highlighted air pollution inequalities

Lockdown revealed stark racial disparities in exposure to air pollution in the U.S, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lockdown highlighted air pollution inequalities

With support from NASA, researchers from George Washington University used satellite data to estimate nitrogen dioxide (NOx) levels both before and after lockdown. 

They then used demographic data to compare how NOx levels changed for different population sub-groups. 

The team found that changes in human activity resulted in significantly lower NOx levels in urban areas. However, even this sharp decrease was not enough to eliminate the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities. 

Marginalised, minority communities still experienced NOx levels during lockdown that, in some cities, were 50% higher than pre-pandemic levels in nearby highest income and mostly white communities, the researchers said. 

For example, in New York, the largest reductions in NOx were found near the convergence of the George Washinton Bridge, an area that also has a heavy concentration of industries. 

silhouette of factory smoke

Based on these findings, the researchers have said that policies aimed at reducing traffic-related emissions (such as public transportation and widespread use of electric cars) may not be enough to reduce the air pollution in disenfranchised minority neighbourhoods. 

Therefore, policymakers should also target the other sources of pollution that are found in disadvantaged communities, such as industry and heavy-duty trucking.

Susan Anenberg, co-author of the study said: ‘Our research shows how individual behaviour change won’t solve environmental injustice.

‘We need long-term policy solutions to reduce emissions and help keep people healthy, especially those living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

‘This study shows that an unparalleled pandemic and an unprecedented drop in emissions were not large enough to clean the air for poor, minority neighbourhoods.

‘Urgent action is needed to reduce or eliminate these disparities, protect public health, and advance environmental justice.’

In related news, in the February Air Quality News magazine, Pippa Neill presented presents exclusive data highlighting the connection between air pollution and deprivation

Photo by Sam Jotham Sutharson


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