Researchers out of the University of Minnesota have made a startling claim: air pollution discriminates against minorities. The University of Minnesota study found that race was a bigger factor than income in terms of which group is most impacted by poor air quality. The study found that minorities in the U.S. breath air with 38 percent more nitrogen dioxide than white people due to their close proximity to power plants and due to vehicle exhaust. “We were quite surprised to find such a large disparity between whites and nonwhites related to air pollution,” Julian Marshall, the report’s lead researcher, told the Minnesota Post. “Especially the fact that this difference is throughout the U.S., even in cities and states in the Midwest.” “The main ones are race and income, and they both matter,” Marshall added. “In our findings, however, race matters more than income.”
The liberal news blog Think Progress notes that this research echoes findings from a 2012 Yale University study that found that “‘potentially dangerous compounds such as vanadium, nitrates and zinc’ exist in locations with high concentrations of people of color, including African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians.” The Environmental Protection Agency has listed nitrogen dioxide on its list of monitored air pollutants. This list includes air pollutants like ozone, carbon monoxide and lead. But the University of Minnesota study may be sounding the alarm on a problem that’s already being mitigated. Air pollutant levels in the U.S., however, have been on a downward trend since at least the 1980s, according to the EPA. Nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen 60 percent in the U.S. since 1980, according to the EPA, and air quality in urban areas have been improving greatly as well. In the New York City area, nitrogen dioxide levels have been on the decline since 1990.
But despite the huge gains in air quality, the EPA and the media often opt to report on the declining problems of air pollution in the country, instead of highlighting just how clean the air is compared to 1970. This phenomenon was highlighted by American Enterprise Institute fellow Joel Schwartz in 2007. He wrote that polling shows “the public thinks that air pollution has been steady or even rising over the last few decades, that it will worsen in the future, and that it is still a serious threat to people’s health.” “Much of what Americans think they know about air pollution is false,” Schwartz wrote. “Through exaggeration and sometimes even outright fabrication, the main purveyors of the story—journalists, government regulators, environmentalists, and even health scientists—have created public fear out of all proportion to the actual risks.” The free-market Institute for Energy Research found that EPA data showed that only a small number of counties across the U.S. are considered in “nonattainment” — meaning one or more air pollutant levels are above federal standards. “The most recent release of the Air Quality Trends report by the EPA once again shows the political slant of the agency and their tendency to ignore transparency and public discourse in the hopes of furthering an ideological agenda,” wrote IER’s Landon Stevens last year. “By neglecting to acknowledge the great success and progress made by the U.S. in lowering emissions and becoming more efficient, they further the deception that we are somehow retreating environmentally, to the smog-filled days of the industrial revolution,” Stevens added. “By perpetuating these misconceptions to the public the EPA not only fails to take credit for improvements, but also hinders honest public discussion of environmental policy and solutions based on fact and reason.”