Study Finds White Americans Breathe Cleaner Air Than Black Americans Despite Polluting More
Air pollution is the cause of more than 100,000 deaths per year.
A new study has revealed Black Americans suffer from pollution inequality meaning they inhale more harmful pollutants on average than white Americans do.
According to Phys.org, researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Washington found white Americans to be responsible for creating most of the pollutants in the country's air; Black and Latinx Americans breathe in more polluted air than white Americans do, however.
"Similar to previous studies, we show that racial-ethnic minorities are exposed to more pollution on average than non-Hispanic whites," said lead researcher Christopher Tessum. "What is new is that we find that those differences do not occur because minorities on average cause more pollution than whites — in fact, the opposite is true."
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The researchers report, on average, white Americans inhale 17 percent less pollution than they generate.
Black Americans, on the other hand, inhale 56 percent more pollution than they produce, and Latinxs inhale over 63 percent more. These stats result in a "pollution burden," a situation in which those breathing in the pollution are not the ones who make it.
Researchers made their conclusions by aggregating consumption reports linked to each ethnic group. For instance, investigators tracked each group's spending habits, gas consumption and even grocery shopping bills. These data were then compared to a map that showed the most heavily polluted areas versus the locations of where the majority of pollution was produced.
The authors found people of color lived in the most heavily polluted areas despite having greener consumer habits and blamed racist policies such as redlining as well as general income inequality and political representation for the contradiction.
The study also found that while the air is 50 percent cleaner on average compared to 2003, pollution inequality has not changed at all. The authors said this is distressing in part because 100,000 Americans die preventable deaths each year from fine particulate matter pollution. The pollution that most affects communities of color has been linked to many life-threatening conditions including heart attacks and strokes.
The researchers hope their study will help policymakers fight pollution and climate change and also believe it will form the foundation of a new intersectional area of research.
“The approach we establish in this study could be extended to other pollutants, locations and groupings of people,” said Julian Marshall, co-author of the study. “When it comes to determining who causes air pollution — and who breathes that pollution — this research is just the beginning.”
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