Environmental Segregation: We Aren’t Breathing The Same Air

One of my favorite things about my neighborhood is my privilege to step outside and inhale pure (as I can get) air while I look over my goats and flock of chickens and ducks. Yes, my neighbors have mistaken me for my kids’ sitter. But that first breath every morning is worth it. 

Oh, what a privileged breath of air it is too. 

I live in a white-majority neighborhood between Baltimore and Washington D.C. My children’s elementary school is 93% white, and we’re zoned rural agricultural. That means our neighborhood is pricey. Even for Maryland. 

It also means that landfills, highways, plants, or anything else large and commercial can’t be built here. This is what keeps our air so crisp. 

The same can’t be said for low-income and minority-majority neighborhoods across the United States. 

Pollution is Caused By Whites, But Inhaled By Black and Latinx Americans

It doesn’t really sound fair that one ethnic group can produce more air pollution, but other groups unknowingly inhale it. But that is exactly what is happening. 

One study from the University of Minnesota took a sweeping measure of how minorities all over the country breathe higher levels of nitrogen dioxide when compared with white Americans. NO2 is linked with higher instances of heart attack and asthma.

The disparities are highest in urban areas, and even when comparing white and minority neighborhoods of similar income, inequities exist. Black people are exposed to 56% more pollution than they generate; for Latinx people, the number is 63%.

PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter, is of particular concern because these tiny bits can nest deep in our lungs and cause health issues later. Cars, construction equipment, and smokestacks all produce PM 2.5. 

Another Contributing Factor of COVID’s Disparate Impact on Minorities

People with lung health issues are more vulnerable to COVID-19. That’s not really a surprise, considering that SARS-COV-2 is an airborne disease. When paired with the fact that minorities have higher exposure to white-generated pollution… the picture of inequity is even clearer. 

In one of our previous posts, we explored the correlation between being a minority in the United States and having more serious health outcomes (including death) from COVID than white Americans. Segregated pollution is just one of the many socio-economic factors that contribute to this reality.

According to a Harvard Study, there is a correlation between long-term exposure to PM 2.5 and higher COVID mortality rates. 

Let that sink in.

Just by virtue of where you live, which you may have selected based on affordability and wanting to live with others who look like you, you have a higher mortality rate for COVID-19. 

The “whatabouters” often come up with reasons as to why minorities have brought inequities on themselves (or how they don’t exist at all). But what is a person supposed to do when they go to school, work, pay their taxes, follow the law, but the very air they breathe leaves them vulnerable to pollution they didn’t cause? 

Learn more about environmental segregation and inequities at the Culturally Competent Conversations on Equity and Belongingness (C3EB) Summit. Come connect with other people looking to make a difference.

Register here. 

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