Despite overall reductions in ambient air pollution in Massachusetts, exposure continues to fall unequally along racial/ethnic, income, and education lines, according to a new study led by a School of Public Health researcher.
The study, published in Environmental Research, found concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) decreased across the state between 2003 and 2010, but exposure remained higher in predominantly Hispanic and non-Hispanic black communities. Within the state’s cities, the researchers found exposure inequality actually increased slightly between racial/ethnic groups during the study period.
“Although ambient air pollution concentrations have decreased across all of Massachusetts, these reductions had a higher relative impact on populations that were already in the lowest exposure categories, hence the increase in exposure inequality,” says Patricia Fabian, research assistant professor of environmental health and the study’s senior author.
While numerous previous studies have shown disparities in air pollution exposure at one point in time, the current study was one of the first to track those disparities over space and time, allowing for a more nuanced picture of exposures as demographics shift in a given area.
Using data from the 2000 and 2010 Census and the 2006–2010 American Community Survey on race/ethnicity, income, educational attainment, and rural/urban land classification, the researchers calculated exposures using modeled PM2.5 concentrations from 2003 to 2010 and NO2 concentrations from 2005 to 2010. The researchers then characterized the disparities using the Atkinson Index, a quantitative measure for relative inequality.
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