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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Mar 26;116(13):6001-6006. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1818859116. Epub 2019 Mar 11.

Inequity in consumption of goods and services adds to racial-ethnic disparities in air pollution exposure.

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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.
Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712.
Department of Economics, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131.
Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
Energy Consulting, Lumina Decision Systems, Los Gatos, CA 95033.
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108.
Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108.
Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108.
Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108.
Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108


Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution exposure is the largest environmental health risk factor in the United States. Here, we link PM2.5 exposure to the human activities responsible for PM2.5 pollution. We use these results to explore "pollution inequity": the difference between the environmental health damage caused by a racial-ethnic group and the damage that group experiences. We show that, in the United States, PM2.5 exposure is disproportionately caused by consumption of goods and services mainly by the non-Hispanic white majority, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic minorities. On average, non-Hispanic whites experience a "pollution advantage": They experience ∼17% less air pollution exposure than is caused by their consumption. Blacks and Hispanics on average bear a "pollution burden" of 56% and 63% excess exposure, respectively, relative to the exposure caused by their consumption. The total disparity is caused as much by how much people consume as by how much pollution they breathe. Differences in the types of goods and services consumed by each group are less important. PM2.5 exposures declined ∼50% during 2002-2015 for all three racial-ethnic groups, but pollution inequity has remained high.


air quality; environmental justice; fine particulate matter; input–output; life cycle assessment

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