Sustainability Environment

Public housing residents exposed to higher levels of air pollution

“Our study is especially relevant today given the fact that the U.S. faces a severe housing crisis, as affordable housing construction has not accommodated a growing financially insecure population,” one researcher said.
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  • The study, published in Scientific Reports, showed an overrepresentation of public housing in areas with elevated levels of particulate matter.

  • Exposure to particulate matter is responsible for 3 percent of all deaths and 22 percent of deaths from environmental causes nationwide, one researcher said.

  • This was the first nationwide study to demonstrate the disparity in exposure to particulate matter, researchers said.

People living in public housing developments across the U.S. face higher exposure to air pollution, according to a new national study.  

The study, published in Scientific Reports this month, showed an overrepresentation of public housing in areas with elevated levels of particulate matter and a greater percentage of Black, Hispanic and low-income residents living in these communities. 

Timothy W. Collins, a professor of geology at the University of Utah, said in a news release that exposure to particulate matter is responsible for 3 percent of all deaths and 22 percent of deaths from environmental causes nationwide. 

“Our study is especially relevant today given the fact that the U.S. faces a severe housing crisis, as affordable housing construction has not accommodated a growing financially insecure population,” Collins added. “Access to safe shelter is a basic need that remains unmet for many.” 

The disparity between income and the average cost of a home has increased drastically over the past six decades. Census Bureau data shows the average cost of a home in 1960 was $11,900 with the median household income sitting at $5,600.  

Decades later, median income in the U.S. is around $79,000 per year, compared to median home prices averaging more than $428,000.   


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Jayajit Chakraborty, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at The University of Texas El Paso said this was the first nationwide study to demonstrate the disparity in exposure to particulate matter. He noted that previous research did not examine whether public housing developments were located in areas with higher levels of air pollution.  

“These findings represent an important starting point for future research and emphasize the urgent need to identify gaps in environmental, public health and housing policies that have contributed to higher air pollution exposures among public housing residents,” Chakraborty said. 

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