Why Air Pollution is a Racial Issue

Written by Carimah Townes

study produced by the University of Minnesota concluded that race is a determining factor in who is most affected by air pollution. Specifically, non-white people breathe air that is substantially more polluted than the air that white people breathe.

According to Julian Marshall, who led the University’s research, race outweighed income in regards to who is most affected by poor air quality. When low-income white people were compared to high-income Hispanic people, the latter group experienced higher levels of nitrogen dioxide. Altogether, people of color in the U.S. breath air with 38 percent more nitrogen dioxide in it than their white counterparts, particularly due to power plants and exhaust from vehicles.

“We were quite surprised to find such a large disparity between whites and nonwhites related to air pollution,” Marshall told the Minnesota Post. “Especially the fact that this difference is throughout the U.S., even in cities and states in the Midwest.”

Other evidence has also pointed to disproportionately high levels of air pollution in low-income and non-white communities. A 2012 study conducted by Yale University researchers revealed that “potentially dangerous compounds such as vanadium, nitrates and zinc” exist in locations with high concentrations of people of color, including African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. Unfortunately, people of color contribute the least amount of air pollutants, despite being the most heavily impacted by them.

Even outside of communities of color, the consequences of air pollution are widespread. Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) determined that 7 million people die from air pollution every year, globally. As such, air quality constitutes the great environmental health risk worldwide, and contributes to a number of longer-term health problems. Dirty air is linked to asthma, kidney damage, heart disease, and cancer. Drawing on data from 2009 to 2011, State of the Air concluded that 42 percent of people living in the U.S., alone, reside in areas with “pollution levels [that] are too often dangerous to breath.”

Air pollution is not the only health issue that race factors into, as public health is riddled with racial implications on a broader level. Racial bias plays a role in doctor-patient interactions, and some groups, namely African-Americans, live with chronic diseases stemming from racial discrimination.

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F3 years ago


NO MORE FWD to Ana Marija
ANA MARIJA R3 years ago

Thank you.

Maria Teresa Schollhorn

Thanke you

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush3 years ago

Money was spent on a study to tell people what we already know?

Trina Hawkins
Trina Hawkins3 years ago

YES,Sad but TRUE ! THINK about it !! White Americans live in the Suburbs,Nice neighborhoods ,with little traffic,No Big Factories! So the AIR is CLEANER ! While Most Minorities live in the BIG Cities! WHY ? Because most Can't Afford that NICE House,Big yard,or have that GREAT Job,with All those GOOD Benifits !! They Breath in all the SMOG and Other Pollutants ! The Cars,Buses,Trucks,Factories! So they Suffer with Health issues from there surroundings! Life is like a Lottery,some Make it ,some Don't ! No one wants to live in the BAD Area of town! No Job,poor living conditions,but it happens ! I know! I have lived in different states,the City,and in the Country,now Suburbs! There is a BIG difference,but you Don't know if you have Never dealt with being a Minority,moving around a lot as a child! If Everyone would OPEN their Eyes,they too would SEE the Injustice done to OUR fellow Americans ! :(

Michael T.
Michael T3 years ago

As is typical of Jacob/Steve R

And I quote: Americans are sick of it - as evidenced by the recent "affirmative action" ruling.

What he left out and really meant by his comment would look like this

White Americans, like me, are sick of it - as evidenced by the recent "affirmative action" ruling, by a racist group of 5 on SCOTUS.

Which really changes the dynamic of his comment entirely.

Jacob/Steve R's family, it should be known, moved to America after that you, know, that Apartheid thing on Rhodesia several decades ago. He is in his 50's which means that he grew up in Rhodesia when the whites were busily politically and murderously in claiming power over the African's of Rhodesia.

That sort of indoctrination by both parents and society will really screw things up for you for a long time to come.

The evidence of this can be seen in his comments on this article.

That is, once you get past laughing at his avatar, a creature in a jester suit and leotards with a pointy hat wielding a caduceus on a stick with white puffs of smoke coming out of his socks.

Barbara DeFratis
Barbara DeFratis3 years ago

Old News. After all, I remember when my late husband worked at a laminating company, which was in one of Cleveland, Ohio's poorest neighborhoods, which had one of the highest crime rates, also. Nobody cared what was being dumped in the air or any place else. In that neighborhood, life was as cheap as the sex, when cash ran out at the end of the month.... need I say any more and that doesn't even count all the drugs that were for sale.

Angela Ray
Angela Ray3 years ago

Well if you wanna' put it like that...that's because natural people can't breathe poisons like that. Same with animals. Plants are our only defense and hope for keeping our air cleaner; yet you kill all them too!

Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thank you for the article