National Institute on Aging

University of Washington Study Finds That African Americans Face Increased Risk From Air Pollution

A new study by researchers at the University of Washington reports that fine particulate matter from power plants producing electricity is responsible for 16,000 premature deaths each year in the United States. And African Americans are more likely than Whites to be exposed to this pollution. In many areas, the majority of the health impacts came from emissions originating in other states.

“We looked at emissions from different types of power plants — including coal, natural gas, diesel and oil power plants — and modeled how the pollutants would travel based on things like wind patterns or rain. We also consider how emissions can react in the atmosphere to form fine particle air pollution,” said lead author Maninder Thind, a university of Washington civil and environmental engineering doctoral student. “That gave us a map of pollution concentrations across the country. Then we overlaid that map with data from the census to get an estimate of where people live and how this pollution results in health impacts.”

Then, using mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the team estimated premature deaths due to electricity generation emissions. Overall, the research team found that emissions affected Black Americans the most, leading to about seven premature deaths per 100,000 people.

“A lot of people may expect that the disparity we see for race or ethnicity comes from an underlying difference in income. But that’s not what we see,” said co-author Christopher Tessum, a research scientist in the University of Washington’s civil and environmental engineering department. “We find that differences by race or ethnicity tend to be larger than differences by income group.”

“We’ve seen in our previous research that our society is more segregated by race than by income, and now it’s showing up again with air pollution from electricity generation emissions,” added senior author Julian Marshall, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington.

The full study, “Fine Particulate Air Pollution from Electricity Generation in the US: Health Impacts by Race, Income, and Geography,” was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. It may be accessed here.



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