Air pollution: Healthy neighborhoods are free of pollution and toxins that undermine safety, health, and well-being. 

Insights & Analyses

  • The air pollution exposure index for people of color is 15 points higher than the index for White people. The air exposure index for Black people is 19 points higher than that of White people. 

  • The air pollution index for people of color living below poverty is slightly worse than the index for people of color living above poverty. However, the air pollution exposure index for people of color is higher than that of White people for all income levels. 

  • Although exposure to air pollution exposure has declined for some racial/ethnic groups, such as Asian or Pacific Islanders and Latinxs, it has increased for other groups including Blacks and Native Americans. 

  • Off-road mobile sources contribute 7 points to the air pollution exposure index for Asian or Pacific Islanders, which is more than any other racial/ethnic group.

  • Southern states with large Black populations like Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia suffer from the highest air pollution exposure index for all residents while rural states like Wyoming and North Dakota are among the lowest.

Drivers of Inequity

People of color are disproportionately exposed to air pollution that is primarily caused by White Americans’ consumption habits. This disparity is largely caused by ongoing racial segregation forged through historical practices such as racially exclusive housing covenants and zoning laws as well as ongoing ones such as discriminatory hiring and mortgage lending. These practices have dispossessed communities of color of economic and political power. As a result, their neighborhoods are often located in closer proximity to highways, industrial plants, and other sources of pollutants.

Strategies

Grow an equitable economy: Policies to promote healthy environments for all

Strategy in Action

California reduces air pollution through freight-sector reform. While heavy-duty vehicles make up only 5 percent of vehicles on the road, they produce more than 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the transportation sector. In 2015, California passed the California Sustainable Freight Action Plan to address transportation emissions as a part of its plan to address climate change. By 2030, the state aims to improve system efficiency by 25 percent by removing regulatory barriers and deploying 100,000 zero-emission freight vehicles. Progress on the initiative is underway; more than 70 different models of zero-emission vans, trucks, and buses are now commercially available and the California Public Utilities Commission approved over $300 million for freight vehicle-charging infrastructure. Learn more.

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