PerspectiveAIR POLLUTION

Mapping the clean air haves and have-nots

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Science  31 Jul 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6503, pp. 503-504
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb0943

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Summary

Environmental quality can affect a host of health and economic outcomes, and the heterogeneous distribution of pollution potentially explains a substantial portion of the gaps in outcomes between groups of different socioeconomic statuses (1). Founded on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the antitoxics movement in the late 1970s, the environmental justice movement emerged to address the fact that exposure of minorities to pollution was not necessarily random (2). Yet, despite documentation of environmental disparities between different racial and ethnic groups (3, 4), we have little systematic evidence about the evolution of environmental disparities over time and the factors contributing to their change. On page 575 of this issue, Colmer et al. (5) document trends in the spatial distribution of airborne particulate matter smaller than 2.5 µm in diameter (PM2.5). They find that although PM2.5 concentration has substantially decreased in North America over the past three decades, the relative ranking of PM2.5 across the United States has remained notably stable: The most and least polluted tracts in 1981 remain the most and least polluted in 2016, with disadvantaged communities more likely to have higher pollution ranks at any given time.

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