Racial Disparities

Racial Disparities In Air Pollution-Related Diseases On The Rise In The US, Study Reveals


Despite advancements in improving air quality in the United States, recent research indicates that communities of color are experiencing a disproportionate burden of health issues associated with air pollution. A study conducted by researchers at the George Washington University revealed an increase in racial and ethnic disparities in pollution-related diseases such as asthma over the past decade. The findings, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, shed light on the need for targeted policies to address environmental injustices in historically marginalized communities across the country.

The study, titled “Increasing racial and ethnic disparities in ambient air pollution–attributable morbidity and mortality in the United States,” underscores the impact of systemic racism and redlining practices that have led to the clustering of minority populations in areas with high pollution levels. Gaige Kerr, a Senior Research Scientist at the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health, emphasized the importance of adopting place-based interventions to allocate resources and support communities disproportionately affected by air pollution.

Analyzing health outcomes at the census tract level, the researchers focused on the effects of nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, two pollutants commonly found in urban environments. Nitrogen dioxide, originating from vehicle emissions, can exacerbate respiratory conditions like asthma, especially in children exposed to traffic-related pollution. On the other hand, fine particulate matter, known as soot, poses risks to cardiovascular health and has been linked to lung cancer and stroke.

The study highlighted that while pollution levels have decreased overall, the health disparities stemming from exposure to pollutants have widened, particularly in minority communities. Susan Anenberg, the co-author of the study and director of the GW Climate and Health Institute, emphasized the importance of stringent regulations to safeguard air quality and public health, especially in light of the upcoming presidential election.

The economic implications of pollution-related health issues were also significant, with an estimated cost of $466 billion in 2019 attributed to premature deaths and pediatric asthma cases linked to pollution. Despite existing air quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the study indicated that these regulations may not be adequately protecting vulnerable populations from the health impacts of pollutants.

Kerr noted that recent revisions to fine particulate matter standards by the EPA are a step in the right direction to mitigate the harmful effects of air pollution. However, continued efforts to enforce robust regulations and prioritize the well-being of disadvantaged communities are crucial to addressing the escalating disparities in pollution-related diseases in the United States.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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