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Air Pollution Disproportionately Affecting Communities of Color In U.S., Study Says

A new Harvard study revealed the findings, which show a disparity in particulate air pollution.

According to new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Black, Asian, and Latino communities are being exposed to higher levels of dangerous fine particulate air pollution than other groups. Low-income populations were also more affected than their more wealthy counterparts, the study adds.

According to Phys.org, the study authors, in collaboration with the Environmental Systems Research Institute, developed a new platform linking 17 years’ worth of demographic data with data on fine particulate pollution from across the U.S., and created unique visualizations, which shine a light on the stark disparities in air pollution exposure among racial/ethnic and income group lines in the United States.

"Our study, which highlights the relative disparities in PM2.5 exposure in the U.S., is particularly timely given current crises the country is facing, such as a reckoning with racism as well as disparities in COVID-19 outcomes," said Francesca Dominici, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population and Data Science at the Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study, which was published on January 12 in the journal Nature.

This isn’t the first study proving minority groups in the U.S. are at higher risk of premature death from exposure to dangerous fine particulate air pollution. Previous research has shown that there are disparities in exposure to air pollution.

That said, the new study is perhaps the deepest dive into the issue of exposure by focusing on relative disparities across income and racial/ethnic groups. The data was analyzed for the nation’s 32,000 zip code tabulation areas as researchers linked demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau and American Community Survey from 2000 to 2016.

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For example, in 2016, the average PM2.5 concentration for the Black population in America was 13.7 percent higher than that of the white population and 36.3 percent higher than that of the Native American population. The trend for Latino populations was similar.

"Our findings regarding relative disparities indicate the importance of strong, targeted air-pollution-reduction strategies, not only to reduce overall air-pollution levels but also to move closer toward the EPA's aim to provide all people with the same degree of protection from environmental hazards," Abdulrahman Jbaily, a former postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Chan School and first author of the study, said, according to Phys.org.

Read the full study results here.

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