American Air Is Getting Cleaner, But Benefits Aren't Reaching All

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 17, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- An American's income and ethnicity could play a role in how clean the air is that they breathe, a new study finds.

Air pollution emissions have fallen more in wealthier areas, and less in areas with larger Hispanic or American Indian populations.

Overall, U.S. air pollution emissions have decreased substantially, but the magnitude of the change varies based on demographics, the researchers found.

“Policies specifically targeting reductions in overburdened populations could support more just reductions in air pollution and reduce disparities in air pollution exposure,” said lead researcher Yanelli Nunez, an environmental health scientist with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

“This is an important lesson gained from 53 years of Clean Air Act implementation, which is particularly relevant as we develop policies to transition to renewable energy sources, which will have a collateral impact on air quality and, as a result, on public health,” Nunez added in a university news release.

For the study, Nunez' team analyzed emissions data from the Global Burden of Disease Major Air Pollution Sources inventory, a collaborative academic project involving three different universities.

On average, U.S. air pollution emissions declined substantially from 1970 to 2010 from all sources, except for ammonia emissions from agriculture fertilizer and organic carbon particle emissions from indoor heating of the residential sector, researchers said.

Despite this overall downward trend, certain groups of people experienced relatively smaller reductions or even increases in air pollution, the team found.

For example, counties with a larger percentage of Hispanics or American Indians tended to have relative increases in air pollution from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia, data revealed.

Further, the overall reduction in emissions tended to be even greater in counties with a higher average family income.

The new study was published Jan. 17 in the journal Nature Communications.

“Air pollution emissions do not perfectly capture population air pollution exposure, and we also know that neighborhood-level air pollution inequities are common,” said senior researcher Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Mailman School.

More information

The National Institutes of Health have more about the health effects of air pollution.

SOURCE: Columbia University, news release, Jan. 17, 2024

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