People of color more exposed than whites to air pollution

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FILE - In this Monday, March 23, 2020 file photo, a playground outside the Prince Hall Village Apartments sits empty near one of the petrochemical facilities in Port Arthur, Texas. According to a study published Wednesday, April 28, 2021 in the journalScience Advances, across America, people of color are disproportionately exposed to air pollution from industry, vehicles, construction and many other sources. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Across America, people of color are exposed to more air pollution than whites from industry, vehicles, construction and many other sources, a new study has found.

Using government air pollution and census data, researchers found that disproportionate numbers of non-white people were exposed to potentially hazardous fine particle pollution from nearly all major U.S. emission sources, regardless of where they live or how much money they make.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, also found that Blacks were the only group disproportionately exposed to each of the pollution sources examined.

Researchers found that on average Black, Hispanic and Asian people were exposed to higher than average levels of fine particle pollution, while white people were subjected to lower than average levels.

“It doesn’t matter how poor, it doesn’t matter how wealthy, the racial disparities exist for all African-Americans and other people of color,” said Paul Mohai, a professor of environmental justice at the University of Michigan who was not involved with the study. He's researched racial disparities in the distribution of hazardous waste dumps, industrial facilities and air pollution at schools — and why and how these disparities exist.

“When you look at the impact of air pollution in the U.S. from all the sources that contribute to fine particulate matter in the atmosphere, there is an overall systemic bias against people of color,” said study co-author Jason Hill, a biosystems engineering professor at the University of Minnesota.

Fine particulate matter comes from a variety of sources, including coal-fired power plants, diesel trucks and farms. Past research shows associations between exposure to particulate matter and health problems such as premature death in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, irregular heartbeat and asthma.

While other studies have shown that non-white people are exposed to more air pollution compared to white people, and that Blacks and Hispanics breathe far more air pollution than they make, this new study breaks it down by source of pollution.