Blacks and Hispanics breathe air polluted by whites

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The air that Americans breathe is not equal.

According to a study, blacks and Hispanics breathe disproportionately air polluted by non-Hispanic whites. This new research quantifies for the first time the racial gap between those responsible for air pollution and those who breathe it.

"The pollution is disproportionately caused by whites, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic minorities," the study said.

The study warns that poor air quality remains the biggest risk to environmental health in the United States. In fact, with 100,000 deaths a year, more Americans are dying of air pollution than car accidents and murders combined.

"Even though minorities contribute less to the general problem of air pollution, they are more affected," said co-author of the study, Jason Hill, professor of engineering at the University. from Minnesota, Caucasian. "Is it fair that I create more pollution and that someone else is disproportionately affected?"

Hill said that if the air in the United States had become cleaner over the last decade, pollution inequality remained stubbornly high.

"What's particularly surprising is the magnitude of pollution inequities for over a decade," Hill said.

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The type of pollution analyzed in the study is known as "PM 2.5" – tiny grains of "particles" that are particularly dangerous to human health as they can penetrate deep into our lungs. These particles, at 2.5 micrometers well below the width of a human hair, are produced by car exhaust pipes, industrial chimneys and burning materials.

The study found that black and Hispanic Americans endured a "pollution burden:" Blacks are exposed to pollution about 56% higher than that caused by their consumption. For Hispanics, it is slightly higher – 63%.

However, non-Hispanic whites benefit from a "pollution benefit", which means they breathe about 17% less air pollution than whites.

The formula used by scientists in their study is motivated by disparities in the amount of goods and services consumed by the groups and by the resulting exposure to pollution.

"On average, whites tend to consume more than minorities. It's because of the wealth, "Hill said.

For example, scientists have found that whites spend more money on high-pollution goods and services than blacks and Hispanics, which means they generate more pollution than other groups.

"Someone had to make the pen that you bought at the store," said Julian Marshall, co-author of the study, professor of engineering at the University of Washington. "We wanted to know where the pollution associated with making this pen was. Is it close to where people live? And who lives there?

For this study, the category "Non-Hispanic Whites" also includes Americans of Asian and American descent. This is based on the source used by the researchers: the government's personal expenditure data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"These findings confirm what most local environmental justice leaders have known for decades:" Whites pour their pollution on poor people and people of color, "said Professor Robert Bullard, professor of public affairs at the University of Toronto. Texas Southern University. is not part of the research. Bullard, often called the father of environmental justice, is African-American.

The researchers say that their formula of pollution inequality could apply to other types of environmental burdens.

"The approach we defined in this study could be extended to other pollutants, places and population groups," Marshall said. "When it comes to determining who causes air pollution – and who breathes that pollution – this research is only the beginning."

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

Contribute: The Associated Press