Scientists and policymakers have long known that black and Hispanic Americans tend to live in neighborhoods with more pollution of all kinds, than white Americans. …A driver of unequal health outcomes across the U.S.
…The researchers found that air pollution is disproportionately caused by white Americans’ consumption of goods and services, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic Americans.
…The most relevant air pollutant metric for human health is “particulate matter 2.5” or PM2.5. It represents the largest environmental health risk factor in the United States with higher levels linked to more cardiovascular problems, respiratory illness, diabetes and even birth defects. PM2.5 pollution is mostly caused by human activities, like burning fossil fuels or agriculture.
…The researchers generated maps of where different emitters, like agriculture or construction, caused PM2.5 pollution. Coal plants produced pockets of pollution in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, while agricultural emissions were concentrated in the Midwest and California’s central valley. “We then tied in census data to understand where different racial-ethnic groups live to understand exposure patterns,” says Hill.
…After accounting for population size differences, whites experience about 17 percent less air pollution than they produce, through consumption, while blacks and Hispanics bear 56 and 63 percent more air pollution, respectively, than they cause by their consumption, according to the study.
“These patterns didn’t seem to be driven by different kinds of consumption,” says Tessum, “but different overall levels.” In other words, whites were just consuming disproportionately more of the same kinds of goods and services resulting in air pollution than minority communities.
…PM2.5 exposure by all groups has fallen by about 50 percent from 2002 to 2015, driven in part by regulation and population movement away from polluted areas. But the inequity remains mostly unchanged.