Health: Air Pollution and Race in America

The Story:

A new study indicates that the government’s regulators wildly misstate the threat to public health posed by air pollution. The study, by scholars at Carnegie Mellon University collaborating with Environmental Defense Fund, looks especially at the issue of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, and addresses its racial component.


“PM 2.5” refers to the size of the particles in the atmosphere, and posits that the particles of concern are 2.5 microns or smaller: readily inhaled. They can be generated by power plants and industrial processes, or as part of an automobile’s exhaust.

Part of the contention of the new study is that existing models for the study of PM 2.5 and its health effects don’t take into account the racial divide in where people live and work and, accordingly, in who breathes what air.

Considering these differences across race and ethnicity boosted the estimated mortality impacts on older Black Americans by 150% and on Hispanic Americans by 52%, the study concluded.

In Pill Form:

“Based on our results, we recommend that the best available and most up-to-date race/ethnicity-specific information be used in regulatory assessments, especially those related to estimating the health effects of policy changes, to identify and reduce environmental injustices of air pollution,” say Elisheba Spiller, lead senior economist at the EDF.

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