Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Polluted U.S. Neighborhoods Haven't Improved in 40 Years

Climate
Polluted U.S. Neighborhoods Haven't Improved in 40 Years
The Los Angeles skyline is covered by smog in February 2018. bvi4092 / Flickr / CC by 2.0

If you lived in a community suffering from bad air quality in 1981, chances are your neighborhood hasn't improved much. That's the takeaway from a new study that found despite years of progress to improve air pollution, wealthy, white Americans are breathing much cleaner air than low-income communities of color, The Guardian reported.


"Disadvantaged communities remain persistently exposed to higher levels of air pollution," said Jonathan Colmer, an economist at the University of Virginia and co-author of the new study published in the journal Science, Reuters reported. "This was true in 1980, it was true in 1990, 2000, 2010, and so on."

The study examined fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, across the United States dating back to 1981. It found that the concentration of pollution from fine particulate matter fell about 70 percent between 1981 and 2016. Experts attribute the progress to stricter emissions regulations, more fuel-efficient vehicles and a decrease in coal-fired plants, Reuters reported.

But even with four decades of air quality improvement, low-income communities of color still do not have equal access to clean air. That's particularly worrying because of the connection between pollution and COVID-19. Recently, a group of Harvard data scientists found that a person living in areas with high-particulate pollution is 15 percent more likely to die from COVID-19 than someone living in an area with only slightly less air pollution, Well and Good reported.

"The persistence of these relative disparities were striking," Colmer told NPR. "Federal and state guidelines aim for all people and places to enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental hazards. We're falling short in terms of addressing relative disparities."

The study was released four months after the Trump administration rejected an Environmental Protection Agency recommendation to tighten air quality regulations, Reuters reported. Though the administration countered that current standards were adequate, the evidence suggests otherwise.

"If a child was born in Los Angeles county today, they would be exposed to the same amount of pollution the average child was exposed to in the early 1990s," Colmer said in The Guardian.


"This paper nicely shines a spotlight on the fact that these disparities continue to be large and that we ought to do something about them," said Joshua Apte, an environmental scientist at the University of California, Berkeley not involved in the study, Reuters reported.

To address the disparities, researchers note that housing discrimination is one of the main culprits, as low-income communities are often located near sources of pollution, according to NPR.

But housing discrimination isn't the only issue.

"Only when we figure out what the causes of the disparities are can we then think about, 'Okay, what are the appropriate policies we can use to mitigate these disparities?'" Lala Ma, an environmental economist at the University of Kentucky told NPR.

With restaurants and supermarkets becoming less viable options during the pandemic, there has been a growth in demand and supply of local food. Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County / Flickr

By Robin Scher

Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A technician inspects a bitcoin mining operation at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec on March 19, 2018. LARS HAGBERG / AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
OR-93 traveled hundreds of miles from Oregon to California. Austin Smith Jr. / Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs / California Department of Fish and Wildlife

An Oregon-born wolf named OR-93 has sparked conservation hopes with a historic journey into California.

Read More Show Less
A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. The plant, owned by FirstEnergy, was retired the following month. Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

By David Drake and Jeffrey York

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The Big Idea

People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.

Read More Show Less