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Racial disparity in US pollution exposure

  • Written by  Olivia Edward
  • Published in Cultures
Racial disparity in US pollution exposure View Apart / Shutterstock
01 Jun
New study demonstrates a significant difference in exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) outdoor air pollution between white and non-white people in the USA

University of Minnesota researchers, published in PLOS ONE, used satellite observations, measurements by the Environmental Protection Agency and maps of land use to explore disparities in exposure to air pollution across the USA. They compared specific areas within cities based on populations defined in the US Census as ‘non-white’ or ‘white.’

The results indicated that in most areas, lower-income non-whites are more exposed than higher-income whites. However, on average, race mattered more than income in explaining the observed differences in NO2 exposure. New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois were found to have the largest exposure gaps between whites and non-whites, irrespective of income.

‘We were quite shocked to find such a large disparity between whites and non-whites related to air pollution,’ said one of the study’s co-authors, Julian Marshall.

Breathing NO2, which is found in vehicle exhaust and power plant emissions, has been linked to asthma symptoms and heart disease. The racial disparity was such that the researchers estimated that if non-whites breathed the lower NO2 levels experienced by whites, it would prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease alone among non-whites each year.

This story was published in the June 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine

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