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Black Americans Suffer From Disproportionately High Rates of Air Pollution-related Deaths


Air pollution may have decreased, but Black Americans are still amongst those who suffer from air pollution illnesses the most, according to new research. 

Led by Yale researchers and published in the scientific journal Nature Behavior on Thursday, the study found that Black Americans are amongst the racial and ethnic groups that are most exposed to fine particulate matter, contributing to higher rates of cardiovascular disease deaths. 

Investigating the amount of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5,   the researchers examined both the increased rates of the particulates and the cardiovascular disease deaths in the U.S. between 2001 and 2016. They found that, overall, one increase in the matter was linked to an extra 2.01 cardiovascular deaths per every one million Americans. 

The increase in the pollutants resulting in more cardiovascular disease deaths was particularly noticeable amongst BIPOC Americans. 

While there was also an average of 279.24 deaths per one million Hispanic Americans, Black Americans recorded the highest rates of cardiovascular disease fatalities as a result of pollution, recording a rate of 905.68 deaths per every one million Black Americans yearly. The statistic is approximately four times more than the number of white Americans who recorded an annual rate of 202.70 deaths per every one million white Americans. 

Although the study found that in the 15-year gap, air quality improved, the rates of cardiovascular deaths related to air pollutants remained unchanged amongst the Black American community; while the mortality rate for Black Americans was 4.59 times higher than white Americans in 2001, it remained the same at a rate of 4.47 times higher than white Americans in 2016.

In an official release by Yale University, co-author Harlan Krumholz emphasized the extra vulnerability that Black Americans have when it comes to air pollution. 

“We have identified another way that the structure of our society contributes to cardiovascular health disparities,” said Krumholz per Yale News. “The study demonstrates that the excess mortality among Black people is not just derived from traditional risk factors, but likely also to the increased exposure to poor air quality based on where they live.”

With histories of discriminatory practices such as redlining, previous studies have found that Black Americans tend to live in neighborhoods that are most exposed to poor air quality from vehicles, industries, agriculture and other sources of pollutants. According to the American Lung Association, along with factors such as racism and class bias, socioeconomic conditions are also a factor.

The newest study comes months after the EPA proposed new conditions to strengthen air quality. Announced in January, the latest proposal works on lowering the annual standard of the pollutant PM2.5 from 12 micrograms per cubic meter to between nine and 10 micrograms per cubic meter. 

“No one should be sickened by the environment they live in, and EPA’s proposal marks the start of changes that will have lasting impacts in communities all over, especially Black and Brown communities that often experience increased PM pollution,” said the former President of the National Medical Association, Dr. Doris Browne, per a public statement. “Harmful air pollution can have lasting and devastating impacts on people’s health, but by strengthening air quality standards, we can ensure healthier, more sustainable communities across this country.”

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