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New Study on Air Pollution Shows How Environmental Injustice Runs Rampant Across the Nation

"This report illustrates how people of color and people with limited means have been grossly taken advantage of by polluters who don't care about the misery they cause," says Sierra Club's Leslie Fields.

Demonstrators march during the Peoples Climate March on Sept. 21, 2014. (Photo: Annette Bernhardt/flickr/cc)

Demonstrators march during the Peoples Climate March on Sept. 21, 2014. (Photo: Annette Bernhardt/flickr/cc)

A new study by five Environmental Protection Agency scientists spotlights "the devastating reality of environmental injustice and racism in our country," as one observer puts it.

The study focused on air pollution caused by particulate matter (PM) of 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less,  which is caused primarily by combustion and can have deleterious health effects. It was published online Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

The researchers found that in "every state except New Mexico, North Dakota, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., communities of color are exposed to more environmental pollution than white communities," as ThinkProgress reported.

BuzzFeed News delved into the new publication, explaining that EPA researcher and study author Ihab

Mikati and his colleagues tracked the location and quantity of air pollutants emitted by refineries and factories using the EPA's National Emissions Inventory. The team then compared the emissions with the demographics of communities within 2.5 miles of each facility, using data from the US Census Bureau.

The new report found that the average U.S. resident lives near about five emissions sources. But, the authors noted, "Blacks in particular are likely to live in high-emission areas."

Specifically, the study found that  those in poverty were exposed to 1.35 times more fine particulate pollution than the overall population; non-Whites were exposed to 1.28 times more pollution. Blacks faced the greatest amount of such pollution, being exposed to 1.54 times more particulate matter than the overall population. "These patterns," the study abstract states, "were relatively unaffected by sensitivity analyses, and disparities held not only nationally but within most states and counties as well.

The Hill notes that the study "cited historical racism and economic inequality as major factors for the disparity due to the locations of facilities emitting particulate pollution, and used that knowledge as the basis for the study."

Responding to the study, Leslie Fields, director of Sierra Club's Environmental Justice Program, said, "It's a travesty that the most vulnerable communities in our country must endure the worst air pollution and its health effects while Trump's EPA administrator jets around the country in a first class seat, meeting with and encouraging the fossil fuel billionaires responsible for that pollution," referring to Scott Pruitt's controversial pricey flights. "This report illustrates how people of color and people with limited means have been grossly taken advantage of by polluters who don't care about the misery they cause."

"To make matters worse," she added, "the Trump administration has even proposed to shutter the EPA's environmental justice office and end programs that allow for communities to have input on how key clean air and clean energy policies are implemented—taking away vital tools to fixing the health disparities outlined in the report. This administration should be ashamed of this level of neglect toward people who need justice and must do more to protect them from greedy fossil fuel billionaires," Fields concluded.

The environmental group's executive director, Michael Brune, for his part, said the "report should be the wake up call that demands politicians act to ensure no community is left to suffer the worst consequences at the hands of corporate polluters, but the Trump Administration is likely to sleep through the alarm."

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