Low-carbon energy minimizes racial disparities in neighborhoods with air pollution

Ambient air pollution is a significant hazard to human and environmental health, resulting in roughly 4.2 million deaths per year. According to data from the World Health Organization, almost 9 out of 10 individuals globally breathe air that contains excessive amounts of air pollutants (WHO).

Air pollution has an influence on every human being on the planet, although the magnitude of that impact varies. There are significant differences in air pollution exposure and impact across different racial and ethnic groups, socioeconomic situations, and geographic areas. Pollution levels may have dropped overall between 1990 and 2010, but persons of color are still more likely to be exposed.

According to Gaige Kerr, a research scientist at George Washington University who studies air quality, people of color are more exposed to common air contaminants including particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

“Nitrogen dioxide is the most inequitably distributed pollutant in the US, and our research finds that nitrogen dioxide levels in 2019 were over two times higher in the least white communities of the US compared to the most white communities,” he adds. 

People of race have a greater average exposure to particle air pollution, regardless of wealth or geographic location.

According to Michael J. Kleeman, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Davis, city regions with greater air pollution concentrations tend to be urban centres and sites downwind of major roads and industrial sources. Automobiles contribute significantly to urban air pollution by emitting pollutants such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. These pollutants might cause lung and heart issues in the 45 million Americans who live near busy highways and other major transportation hubs.

"Systemic racism embedded within urban planning and land use policies in the US has led to sources of common air pollutants—such as busy roadways and industrial facilities—being located in communities of color," says Kerr.Kerr and his co-authors utilized satellite data to reveal persisting nitrogen dioxide inequities in the United States in a paper published in 2021. They linked it to heavy-duty diesel transportation as a source of unfair distribution. Around 72 million people in the United States live along truck freight routes and are exposed to pollution directly, with people of color and those with lower incomes being the most affected. Furthermore, the density of motorways and interstates is about five times higher in racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods than in white ones.

People of color are more likely to be exposed to air pollution, which increases their risk of health effects such as early mortality from particle pollution or asthma. To lessen the health concerns associated with air pollution, methods to reduce pollution must be implemented. Despite increases in population and energy consumption, mortality from air pollution exposure decreased by roughly 47% between 1990 and 2010, presumably as a result of tighter federal air quality restrictions.

“Regions that adopt low carbon energy will see a public health benefit for all residents,” he says. “The groups living closest to the sources such as major highways, rail lines, or major industrial facilities are on the front lines of the air pollution exposure, and so they experience the most immediate and largest benefits.”

According to the European Environment Agency, increased power production from renewable sources has resulted in a 48.50 and 142.2 kiloton reduction in nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, respectively, across the European Union. However, biomass burning may have resulted in an increase of 134.48 and 132.28 kilotons in particulate matter and fine particulate matter emissions, respectively.

“Reducing ethnoracial pollution disparities will likely need approaches that address certain pollution sources and target certain geographic areas and populations,” Kerr adds. “The EPA’s proposed stronger standards for heavy-duty vehicles is one example of a regulation that, if implemented, could move the needle in the right direction to protect community health especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized populations.”

The burden of air pollution exposure and its associated health hazards falls disproportionately on the impacted communities, who are already suffering disproportionately as a result of climate change. People of color, for example, are more likely to reside in places where climate-related increases in high-temperature days and changes in high-tide flooding are expected to result in the greatest loss of labor hours and the greatest rise in traffic delays.

“Lost schooldays, lost workdays, and more health issues all prevent people from reaching their full potential and achieving their goals in life,” Kleeman continues. “It is important that every member of society has access to clean air.”
Low-carbon energy minimizes racial disparities in neighborhoods with air pollution Low-carbon energy minimizes racial disparities in neighborhoods with air pollution Reviewed by Lilit on May 30, 2022 Rating: 5
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