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air quality, ozone, ambient, air pollution, environmental justice, disadvantaged, advantaged, particulate matter, concentration, exposure, environmental quality, minority

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This paper assesses whether the Clean Air Act and its Amendments have been equally successful in ensuring the right to healthful air quality in both advantaged and disadvantaged communities in the United States. Using a method to rank air quality established by the American Lung Association in its 2009 State of the Air report along with EPA air quality data, we assess the environmental justice dimensions of air pollution exposure and access to air quality information in the United States. We focus on the race, age, and poverty demographics of communities with differing levels of ozone and particulate matter exposure, as well as communities with and without air quality information. Focusing on PM2.5 and ozone, we find that within areas covered by the monitoring networks, non-Hispanic blacks are consistently overrepresented in communities with the poorest air quality. The results for older and younger age as well as poverty vary by the pollution metric under consideration. Rural areas are typically outside the bounds of air quality monitoring networks leaving large segments of the population without information about their ambient air quality. These results suggest that substantial areas of the United States lack monitoring data, and among areas where monitoring data are available, low income and minority communities tend to experience higher ambient pollution levels. This paper provides an analysis of how the Clean Air Act and its Amendments have shaped air quality in both advantaged and disadvantaged communities in the United States. The results suggest, first, that the placement of monitors across the United States emphasizes more urban and densely populated communities. This means that rural areas, which are generally characterized by older, non-Hispanic white populations, are less likely to be monitored. It also means that non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics are more likely to have access to monitoring data. Consequently, in areas without monitors, researchers, community members, and policy makers all lack access to information about local air quality. Second, we find that counties with the worst PM2.5 air quality are characterized by a statistically significant larger percent of non-Hispanic blacks (NHB), smaller percent of people over 64 years of age, larger percent of people in poverty, and, for daily PM2.5 only, more people per county. We also find that counties with the worst ozone air quality are characterized by a statistically significant larger percent NHB, larger percent children under 5 years of age, smaller percent in poverty, and larger populations. Third, using buffering analysis to analyze at a more refined geographic scale, we found significant relationships between race, age, poverty, and air quality for both PM2.5 and ozone. Taken together, these results suggest that air quality is uneven across different demographic groups in the United States.




Marie Lynn Miranda, Sharon E. Edwards, Martha H. Keating, Christopher J. Paul

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One thought on “Making the Environmental Justice Grade: The Relative Burden of Air Pollution Exposure in the United States

  • Linda Trey

    Super interesting piece that highlighta inequitable health impacts across the country

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