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In many parts of the US, communities of color face higher levels of pollution

Environmental racism describes the disproportionate exposure to pollution, waste, and emissions faced by people of color. 

Historically, in many parts of the United States, air pollution and emissions levels have been higher in communities of color, which means that minority population suffers a higher burden of disease and death caused by pollution. 

A new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic United States, communities of color are exposed to higher levels of particulate matter compared predominantly white communities. 

“We can’t talk about the impacts of air pollution without pointing out who bears the biggest burden,” said Maria Cecilia Pinto de Moura, a co-author of the new analysis. “This is a pervasive form of discrimination—and as we work on improving transportation, we need to make sure we’re paying attention to the communities who are hardest hit.”

For the analysis, the researchers focused on particulate matter pollution smaller than 2.5 micrometers called PM 2.5. These particles can enter the bloodstream and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Census Bureau were compared to investigate the impacts of traffic pollution in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

African American residents in these states are exposed to 61 percent more particulate matter pollution than white residents. For Asian Americans, the researchers found particulate matter pollution exposure was 73 percent higher, and Latinos face 75 percent higher levels of pollution compared to white communities.

Of the 72 million people included in the study, one-fifth live in areas where PM 2.5 levels are 50 percent higher than the state average. 

“What this study shows is what communities of color across the region have long understood—that they are unfairly exposed to higher levels of pollution,” said Pinto de Moura.  “People of color in the Northeastern states are more likely to suffer the consequences of bad air—lost days of work, emergency room visits, asthma attacks or chronic health problems. That’s a real danger, and it’s true whether or not these families have a personal vehicle of their own.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling for cleaner transportation especially in areas impacted by pollution inequality. 

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer 

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Frank Wagner

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