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The burden of air pollution is not evenly shared, according to the American Lung Association, poorer people and some racial and ethnic groups are among those who often face higher exposure to pollutants and who may experience greater responses to such pollution. Now a new study published this week in the journal PNAS found that air pollution is disproportionately caused by white Americans’ consumption of goods and services, but is disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic Americans.
As NPR explained, the researchers generated maps of where different emitters, like agriculture or construction, caused PM2.5 pollution. Coal plants produced pockets of pollution in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, while agricultural emissions were concentrated in the Midwest and California’s central valley. “We then tied in census data to understand where different racial-ethnic groups live to understand exposure patterns,” said engineering professor Jason Hillat the University of Minnesota, who led the study. The researchers also used previous research on the health effects of different exposure levels to estimate how many premature deaths per year (out of an estimated 102,000 from domestic human-caused emissions) could be linked to each emitter.
USA Today added that poor air quality remains the largest environmental health risk in the United States, the study warns. In fact, with 100,000 deaths per year, more Americans die from air pollution than car crashes and murders combined. Additionally, according to the study, Blacks and Hispanics on average bear a “pollution burden” of 56% and 63% excess exposure, respectively, relative to the exposure caused by their consumption.
Why This Matters: Minority communities are often trapped living in high-pollution areas such as those near freeways or fossil fuel refineries. While air pollution has been decreasing across the United States overall, it’s become evident that pollution inequity has remained high.Robert Bullard, Texas Southern University public affairs professor (who was not part of the study) said, “These findings confirm what most grassroots environmental justice leaders have known for decades, ‘whites are dumping their pollution on poor people and people of color.” It also makes evident that environmental justice has to be a major component of the Green New Deal because if we’re looking to transition to a clean energy future it has to include all Americans.
There are about 1.7 million viruses that afflict mammals and birds, and about half of them could potentially infect humans, just like COVID-19, SARS, HIV, and Ebola. But a team of researchers at UC Davis are attempting to help prevent another pandemic from disrupting the world, by creating an app called SpillOver.
Why this Matters: The scientists creating the app believe that by creating a prioritized watchlist of viruses, we can better have improved detection and thus reduce the risk of disease transmission and maybe even preemptively develop vaccines, therapeutics, and public education campaigns for the viruses that pose the greatest risk.
Why This Matters: We’ve been relying on old data about farmworkers’ exposure to pesticides for the past 30 years, and thus the full picture of the harmful impact of these products on people has been underappreciated.
A coalition of 63 health, wildlife, and environmental organizations has written a letter urging the Biden administration to adopt policies to combat the increased threat of zoonotic disease spillover into human populations. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say that human population expansion and increased interactions with wildlife, present increased chances for future pandemics as well.
Why This Matters: According to the World Health Organization, there are over 200 known zoonoses, diseases that have jumped from non-human animals to humans.
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