Minority Groups Targeted by Urban Air Pollution

In densely-populated urban centers, lower socioeconomic status correlates with increased exposure to air pollutants, particulates, and toxicological elements. People of color breathe in more toxic air than white people in the US, and consequently experience more health problems and are increasingly at risk of asthma and other respiratory problems, more so than whites.

A study was done where analysts compared NO2 concentration estimates with US Census demographic data to estimate outdoor exposures among several factors; they included race/ethnicity, income, age, education level, and by location. The study analyzed the change from 2000 to 2010. Although NO2 levels generally decreased among all race and socioeconomic groups, minority groups still faced more air pollution (10.7 ppb vs. white population 7.8 ppb). Inequalities in NO2 concentrations were much larger in race/ethnicity than by income, age or education. [5] Low-income and minority groups are more likely to live near a major roadway, where tractor-trailer vehicles transport goods using diesel engines, which accounts for a large share of air pollution. [4] “Residential proximity to busy roadways has been documented by earlier studies to cause adverse health outcomes among young children.” [1] Minority children from low-income families breathing in toxic air brings a terrifying horror story to modern day life. Minority groups also tend to have lower income, which means that they look for cheaper real estate like houses or apartments near industrial or construction areas, and landfills, which are naturally prone to more pollution.

Specific areas with high concentrations of minority groups in urban areas can be targeted for policies designed to help equalize the air quality among populations, and reduce mortality and morbidity. “We estimate that reducing nonwhites’ NO2 concentrations to levels experienced by whites would reduce Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD) mortality by ∼7,000 deaths per year.” [4] Better legislation would lead to better air quality regardless of ethnic or racial origin. Urban cities can enact these better policies through command and control (CAC) regulation, because industrial output in major metropolitan areas face little incentive to limit their pollution, being that it is cheaper for them to pollute. The active pollution emissions that are being spewed from factories and traffic are killing people; especially susceptible to this are young children. “A substantial amount of scientific evidence indicates that children are more susceptible to the effects of environmental pollution than adults. Air pollution from potentially hazardous facilities and roadways, in particular, has been documented to play a significant role in causing a variety of health problems among school-age children.” [1] CAC would cost more to implement and maintain when compared to an incentive-based (IB) program, but a well planned and executed CAC program can produce similar results to an IB program and guarantee effectiveness. [6] Implementing taxes to enforce CAC programs will force firms to profit maximize, thereby reducing their emissions and creating better air quality in cities. Government intervention is necessary here because policymakers need to make and enforce laws that better protect urban areas from inequality and social injustice.

A study conducted in two urban areas, Hamilton Canada and Sao Paulo, Brazil, with varying degrees of socioeconomic status, tested for variation in the effect of air pollution among the different locations. The results of the study were that “despite the substantial differences between these locations, the findings of the two studies were similar in showing greater risk in areas having a predominantly lower socioeconomic status population.” [3] Another study was done in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where researchers analyzed the relationship between ambient air pollution and birth weight. Air pollution during each trimester was estimated, and the model included factors such as maternal age, maternal education, and a number of prenatal visits into account. “A reduction of birth weight with estimated first trimester exposures to particulate matter and carbon monoxide was found.” [3] It would seem that systematic air pollution exists across different continents, where policymakers either actively avoid or ignore the adverse effects of air pollution on people of lower socioeconomic status, particularly with regard to children. This same air pollution, either being caused on a grand scale by firms or the government, can cause infants to be born less healthy than their more privileged counterparts.

By bringing to light there is still fierce resentment and tension between different races and different social classes, even on the basis of cleaner air, we can hope that by identifying that there exists environmental injustice and inequality, that in the future it could be solved. By first identifying that there is a problem, the next step is that we can hope to then solve that problem. Current policies provide that people living near certain areas of urban cities experience worse air quality. Being that most of that group consists of low-income and minority groups, means that although the government and businesses may not be directly targeting the lower classes, they are still not rectifying the situation and helping those that are affected by poor air quality, which in this case and most cases, are people of lower socioeconomic status. These studies have been conducted to try and accomplish the task of identifying key variables for inequality and regions where this problem exists. The next step is to develop a taxing system to discourage firms from polluting, because the amount that they are polluting is devastating to lower-income families and their children, making their situation impossible to become better in the future.

By Joseph Pacifico

  1. Chakraborty, Jayajit, and Paul A Zandbergen. “Children at Risk: Measuring Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Potential Exposure to Air Pollution at School and Home.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (1979-), vol. 61, no. 12, 2007, pp. 1074–1079. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40665769.
  2. The American Lung Association. “Urban Air Pollution and Health Inequities: A Workshop Report.” Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 109, 2001, pp. 357–374. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3434783.
  3. Samet, J. M., and R. H. White. “Urban Air Pollution, Health, and Equity.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (1979-), vol. 58, no. 1, 2004, pp. 3–5. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25570244.
  4. Langston-Washington, Jennifer. “People of Color Breathe More Air Pollution.” Futurity, 15 Sept. 2017, http://www.futurity.org/air-pollution-race-1544312-2/.
  5. Clark LP, Millet DB, Marshall JD (2014) National Patterns in Environmental Injustice and Inequality: Outdoor NO2Air Pollution in the United States. PLoS ONE9(4): e94431. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0094431
  6. Oates, Wallace E., et al. “The Net Benefits of Incentive-Based Regulation: A Case Study of Environmental Standard Setting.” The American Economic Review, vol. 79, no. 5, 1989, pp. 1233–1242. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1831449.



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