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After three decades, most polluted U.S. neighborhoods haven’t changed

Published on August 6, 2020

Air pollution in San Francisco, CA.
Air pollution in San Francisco, CA. Image Credit: Pikist (DMCA)

If your neighborhood was among the most polluted in 1981, it probably still is.

Likewise, the least polluted areas are still faring the best, according to a study published on Thursday in the journal Science that analyzed concentrations of fine particulate matter over more than three decades in the United States.

Overall, pollution from fine particulate matter fell about 70% between 1981 and 2016, the study found. In that time, air quality has improved dramatically across the country thanks to tighter air quality regulations, cleaner vehicles and fewer coal-fired power plants, experts have found.

But the communities most exposed to higher levels of pollution remain the same, the study found. That suggests the United States is falling short on its decades-long policy goal of reducing the disproportionate level of exposure to environmental hazards faced mostly by low-income communities of color.

The study examined PM 2.5 data from 8.6 million U.S. census tracts from 1981 to 2016.

That level of analysis, with each census tract including just a few thousand people, offers a detailed look into the longstanding trend, said Howard Frumkin, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington.

“If you’re unlucky enough to live near a busy road, a truck or bus depot, an industrial facility or a power plant, you breathe more particulate air pollution,” Frumkin said. A transition to cleaner energy sources from fossil fuels would help “shrink the gap between the cleanest-air and the dirtiest-air neighborhoods.”


Continue reading at the New York Times.

Originally written by Nichola Groom for the New York Times.
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