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Blacks, Hispanics Bear Burden of Air Pollution: Study

MONDAY, March 11, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Air pollution caused mainly by white Americans has the greatest impact on black and Hispanic Americans, a new study says.

"Similar to previous studies, we show that racial-ethnic minorities are exposed to more pollution on average than non-Hispanic whites," said lead author Christopher Tessum, a research scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"What is new is that we find that those differences do not occur because minorities on average cause more pollution than whites -- in fact, the opposite is true," he said.

This is a case of "pollution inequity" -- the difference between the pollution caused by a racial-ethnic group and the harm experienced by that group.

For this study, University of Washington and University of Minnesota researchers focused on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution. It causes more than 100,000 deaths a year in the United States from heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and other diseases.

But exposure to this type of bad air is not equal among Americans, and not all are equally responsible for causing it, the study showed.

The researchers explained that whites consume more pollution-creating goods and services and therefore are responsible for more PM2.5 pollution than other groups. Also, blacks and Hispanics often live in locations with higher pollution concentrations than whites.

On average, whites have 17 percent less exposure to PM2.5 pollution than they create. Blacks, meanwhile, are exposed to about 56 percent more PM2.5 pollution than they create, and Hispanics to 63 percent more.

"Our work is at the intersection of many important and timely topics such as race, inequality, affluence, environmental justice and environmental regulation," Jason Hill, a bioproducts and biosystems engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, said in a university news release.

Julian Marshall, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington, said the approach used in this study could be extended to other pollutants, locations and groups of people.

"When it comes to determining who causes air pollution -- and who breathes that pollution -- this research is just the beginning," Marshall said.

The study was published March 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The American Lung Association has more on air pollution.

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