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Residential Segregation and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Ambient Air Pollution

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Source Authors’ analysis of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (1990–2011), Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Census (1990–2010). Low segregation refers to the 10th percentile of the dissimilarity index. High segregation refers to the 90th percentile of the dissimilarity index

Fig. 2

Source Authors’ analysis of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (1990–2011), Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Census (1990–2010). Low segregation refers to the 10th percentile of the dissimilarity index. High segregation refers to the 90th percentile of the dissimilarity index

Fig. 3

Source Authors’ analysis of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (1990–2011), Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Census (1990–2010). Low segregation refers to the 10th percentile of the dissimilarity index. High segregation refers to the 90th percentile of the dissimilarity index

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Acknowledgements

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

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Correspondence to Bongki Woo.

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Woo, B., Kravitz-Wirtz, N., Sass, V. et al. Residential Segregation and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Ambient Air Pollution. Race Soc Probl 11, 60–67 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12552-018-9254-0

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Keywords

  • Air pollution
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Residential segregation
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Particulate matter