New study shows air pollution across U.S. reflects racist policies

Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | March 23, 2022

New data shows discriminatory housing practices in the 1930s led to disparities in the health of residents as a result of air pollution in various California neighborhoods in 2022.

The study, entitled “Historical redlining is associated with present-day air pollution disparities in U.S. cities,” analyzed California and the impacts housing policies from the 1930s had on air pollution. It focused on 202 cities and their exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a gas associated with vehicle exhaust and industrial facilities, and microscopic particles known as PM 2.5. When looking at Berkeley and Oakland, the two communities were redlined and saw higher levels of nitrogen dioxide that were twice as high as was safe in the 1930s. According to The New York Times, the two neighborhoods are lower-lying land that are closer to industrial businesses and major highways, increasing pollution.

Redlining is racial discrimination in any kind of housing, specifically regarding governmental maps that outline areas where Black residents lived in communities, deeming those areas as risky investments. The cities analyzed in the study were listed as “D” neighborhoods in the 1930s, designating them as the least desirable places to live because of air pollution exposure. The result of redlining in Oakland and Berkeley included many children having asthma related to the traffic and industrial pollution.

The study overall found well-documented health disparities between redlined and better-rated districts in terms of air pollution. It furthers a 2019 study that found there were twice as many residents visiting emergency rooms for asthma in eight California redlined cities. The study was partially funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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