Before Flint, Michigan sparked a national conversation about inequality and contaminated water, mounting evidence was already showing that lower-income and minority communities were more likely to be exposed to air pollution. A new study by School of Public Health researchers has found persistent and even growing inequality in how much ambient air pollution different Massachusetts communities are exposed to along racial/ethnic, income, and education lines, despite the state’s major reductions in air pollution overall.
The study, supported by the National Institutes on Minority Health and Health Disparities and by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, was published online in Environmental Research.
While numerous previous studies have shown disparities in air pollution exposure at one point in time, the current study was one of the first to track those disparities over space and time, allowing for a more nuanced picture of exposures as demographics shift in a given area.
It found that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) decreased across the state between 2003 and 2010, but exposure remained higher in urban, predominantly Hispanic, non-Hispanic Asian, and non-Hispanic black communities. Exposure inequality among communities with different average incomes and education levels also persisted, but was less dramatic than racial/ethnic disparities. Within the state’s cities, the researchers found exposure inequality actually increased slightly between racial/ethnic groups during the study period.
“Although ambient air pollution concentrations have decreased across all of Massachusetts, these reductions had a higher relative impact on populations that were already in the lowest exposure categories, hence the increase in exposure inequality,” says Patricia Fabian, School of Public Health research assistant professor of environmental health and the study’s senior author.
NO2 and PM2.5 are associated with a range of health effects, including higher risk of asthma and respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease, premature birth and low birth weight, and increased risk of autism …