Energy & Environment

EPA scientists find black communities disproportionately hit by pollution

A study conducted by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists found that minority and poorer communities are disproportionately affected by air pollution relative to the overall population.

The findings by five EPA scientists, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, found that when looking at areas most affected by particulate air emissions, like soot, there were large disparities between communities differentiated by color and social strata.

African-Americans faced the highest impact, with the community facing a 54 percent higher health burden compared to the overall population, the study found. Non-white communities overall had a 28 percent higher health burden and those living under the poverty line had a 35 percent higher burden.

The report cited historical racism and economic inequality as major factors for the disparity due to the locations of facilities emitting particulate pollution, and used that knowledge as the basis for the study.


The scientists concluded that measuring a community’s impact solely on their socioeconomics may not be sufficient, as it found that African-Americans are more affected by air pollution than the impoverished.

The study also found that the disparities held nationally and across states and counties.

Leslie Fields, director of Sierra Club’s environmental justice program, called the results “a travesty.”

“This report illustrates how people of color and people with limited means have been grossly taken advantage of by polluters who don’t care about the misery they cause,” Fields said in a statement. “Locating polluting facilities in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color means that people with marginalized identities experience more asthma, a greater likelihood of heart attacks, even premature death.”

Numerous studies have linked the effects of air pollution to negative health impacts including asthma. EPA’s website states Particulate Matter Pollution is linked to premature death in people with heart or lung disease, irregular heartbeats and decreased lung function.

However, the Trump administration has moved to rollback a number of environmental regulations linked to decreasing air pollution and particulate matter in the air including changes to the Clean Air Act and the Clean Power Plan.

In March, a key environmental justice leader at EPA, who helped found the agency’s environmental justice office during the early 1990s, resigned amid the White House’s budget proposal to dismantle such programs.

In October, the EPA formally proposed scrapping the monumental Obama-era CPP, which aimed to reduce emissions from the power sector. At the end of January this year, the administration announced it would be ending a key part of the Clean Air Act known as the “once-in always-in” policy, which regulated major sources of hazardous air pollutants. Under the agency’s new interpretation of the law, coal-fired plants were downgraded to “area sources.”

Tags African Americans Air pollution Air quality Coal emissions EPA Poverty Racism

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