News | June 27, 2019

In The Northeast, Communities Of Color Breathe 66% More Air Pollution From Vehicles

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--

Our cars, trucks and buses cause unhealthy air pollution—but this risk isn’t shared equally. Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to the most dangerous air pollution in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.

In a new analysis, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that African American, Asian American and Latino residents of the region face significantly higher exposure to pollutants known as PM 2.5—airborne particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

“We can’t talk about the impacts of air pollution without pointing out who bears the biggest burden,” said Maria Cecilia Pinto de Moura, coauthor of the new analysis. “This is a pervasive form of discrimination—and as we work on improving transportation, we need to make sure we’re paying attention to the communities who are hardest hit.”

The numbers show a clear pattern. On average, African American residents in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions are exposed to 61 percent more PM 2.5 pollution than white residents. Asian American residents are exposed to 73 percent higher levels, and Latino residents 75 percent higher levels, than white residents. Of the 72 million people in the region, almost one-fifth live in areas where PM 2.5 pollution levels are more than 50 percent higher than their state’s average—and 60 percent of those residents are people of color. In areas where this pollution measures less than half the state’s average, 85 percent of the population is white.

PM 2.5 is one of the most dangerous and widespread forms of air pollution. Some of these particles are small enough to enter the bloodstream. Exposure has been linked to lung and heart diseases, asthma attacks and premature death. PM 2.5 originates from many sources, including the burning of gasoline and diesel fuel.

This study shows what communities of color across the region have long understood—they are unfairly exposed to higher levels of pollution,” said Pinto de Moura. “People of color in the Northeastern states are more likely to suffer the consequences of bad air—lost days of work, emergency room visits, or chronic health problems.”

Transportation—including cars, trucks, and buses—is a major contributor to air pollution in the region, and is also the biggest source of global warming emissions in these states. Newer technologies like electric vehicles can dramatically reduce these emissions. Moving to a cleaner transportation system isn’t just critical to reaching climate goals; it will also help residents breathe easier and live healthier lives.

“This study confirms the need to transition to cleaner forms of transportation, especially electric cars, buses and trucks and public transit,” said Ken Kimmell, president of UCS, who served on Massachusetts Governor Baker’s Future of Transportation Commission. “While this transition will require significant investment, there will be a tremendous benefit in improved public health, especially for our most vulnerable residents.”

The study examined the impacts of pollution from on-road vehicles in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.

This release can be read online.

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe and sustainable future. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.

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