Racial gap in U.S. pollution: White Americans have a 'pollution advantage'
Updated 15:44, 14-Mar-2019
By Alok Gupta
02:59

Despite contributing to the majority of emissions, white affluent Americans have a "pollution advantage," that also puts black and Hispanic groups at risk, a new study said. 

Black and Hispanic minorities inhale most of the pollution resulting from the consumption of goods and services created by the white majority.

Air pollution generates a large amount of extremely fine particles called PM2.5, that are known for causing cardiovascular and other diseases. 

Heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and other diseases caused by poor air quality have emerged as the most significant environmental health risk in the U.S. It claims more than 100,000 deaths every year. Globally, air pollution is responsible for more than 8.8 million premature deaths.  

The study published in the latest edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that the non-Hispanic whites not only have a "pollution advantage," but they also experience approximately 17 percent less air pollution exposure than is caused by their consumption.

As a result, the black and Hispanic populations are forced to bear the "pollution burden." On average, blacks are exposed to about 56 percent more PM2.5 pollution than is caused by their consumption. “For Hispanics, it is slightly higher – 63 percent,” the study found.  

“Our work is at the intersection of many important and timely topics such as race, inequality, affluence, environmental justice, and environmental regulation,” said Jason Hill, University of Minnesota bio-products and bio-systems engineering professor.

Worst enough, a large percentage of American blacks and Hispanics residing in poor neighborhoods are prone to higher PM2.5 concentrations than white Americans, which increases their daily exposure to air pollution. 

Habitually, white Americans tend to consume “greater amounts of pollution-intensive goods and services” compared to racial minorities groups. As a result, they are responsible for generating a large amount of PM2.5 pollution, the study said.  

Earlier studies also revealed that racial-ethnic minorities are exposed to more pollution on average than non-Hispanic whites. “What is new is that we find that those differences do not occur because minorities on average cause more pollution than whites – in fact, the opposite is true,” said lead author Christopher Tessum.

Previous studies measured air pollution caused by industries and energy use, and their impact on health.  This research identifies groups responsible for using energy-intensive products contributing to air pollution.  

“When it comes to determining who causes air pollution – and who breathes that pollution – this research is just the beginning,” Tessum added.