Black and Hispanic Americans Bear a Disproportionate Burden from Air Pollution


Poor air quality is the largest environmental health risk in the United States.

Fine particulate matter pollution is responsible for more than 100,000 deaths each year from heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and other diseases. But not everyone is equally exposed to poor air quality, nor are all people equally responsible for generating it.

Black and Hispanic Americans bear a disproportionate burden from air pollution generated mainly by non-Hispanic white Americans, according to new research from a team led by the University of Washington and the University of Minnesota. The finding, which quantifies for the first time the racial gap between who generates air pollution and who breathes it, was published March 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Similar to previous studies, we show that racial-ethnic minorities are exposed to more pollution on average than non-Hispanic whites,” said first author Christopher Tessum, a research scientist in the UW’s civil and environmental engineering department and a recent University of Minnesota graduate. “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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