Race and Social Problems

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 60–67 | Cite as

Residential Segregation and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Ambient Air Pollution

  • Bongki WooEmail author
  • Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz
  • Victoria Sass
  • Kyle Crowder
  • Samantha Teixeira
  • David T. Takeuchi


Race and ethnicity are consequential constructs when it comes to exposure to air pollution. Persistent environmental racial/ethnic inequalities call for attention to identifying the factors that maintain them. We examined associations between racial residential segregation and racial/ethnic inequalities in exposure to three types of air pollutants. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (1990–2011), the U.S. Census (1990–2010), and the Environmental Protection Agency, we tested the independent and joint contributions of race/ethnicity and metropolitan-level residential segregation on individual levels of exposure to air pollution nationwide. We found that racial and ethnic minorities were exposed to significantly higher levels of air pollution compared to Whites. The difference between minorities and Whites in exposure to all three types of air pollution was most pronounced in metropolitan areas with high levels of residential segregation. The environmental inequities observed in this study call for public health and policy initiatives to ameliorate the sources of racial/ethnic gaps in pollution exposure. Given the links between the physical environment and health, addressing such uneven environmental burdens may be a promising way to improve population health and decrease racial/ethnic inequalities therein.


Air pollution Race and ethnicity Residential segregation Nitrogen oxides Particulate matter 



This research was supported by a Grant (R01 HD078501) to Crowder from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Social WorkUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Emergency MedicineUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of Washington, SeattleSeattleUSA
  4. 4.School of Social WorkBoston CollegeChestnut HillUSA

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