Minorities, Low-Income Americans Exposed To Air With 38% More Pollution

April 28, 2014  |  

The American Heart Association reports that heart disease is too prevalent  among African Americans. And “[t]wo decades of research have shown that air pollution can trigger heart attacks, strokes, and irregular heart rhythms, particularly in people already at risk for these conditions,” reports the AHA journal.  So new data that shows that communities of color in the United States are disproportionately exposed to high rates of pollution is cause for concern.

Engineering and environmental researchers at the University of Minnesota (UM) examined the differences in pollution exposure across race, income, education attainment and other categories, and found race was a major  factor.

The study “National patterns in environmental injustice and inequality: Outdoor NO2 air pollution in the United States” revealed that African Americans and other people of color breathe in air with 38 percent more noxious nitrogen dioxide than whites. Communities of color tend to be located closer to power plants and high levels of vehicle exhaust.

Besides race, income and education played into the results as well as Americans with lower incomes and less education were also exposed at higher rates than richer and more educated Americans.

“We were quite shocked to find such a large disparity between whites and non-whites related to air pollution,” said Julian Marshall, a civil engineering associate professor in the University of Minnesota’s (UM) College of Science and Engineering and co-author of the study, in a statement.

Some of the major health problems minorities have could be avoided if they experienced lower exposure to pollution.  If, for example, non-whites breathed the lower nitrogen dioxide levels as whites do, 7,000 deaths from heart disease would be avoided in minority communities.

Researchers believe the study could be a resource for monitoring and evaluating other areas of environmental disparity.

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