Latinos Breathe More Unclean Air Because of White Consumption


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It is a proven fact that people of color inhale more hazardous pollution than whites.

Worse, the consumption of products that cause unclean air is coming from the community least affected by this kind of pollution — whites, according to recent research.

Latinos, the group most impacted, will breathe 63% more contaminated air than what their consumption produces.

“Even though minorities are contributing less to the overall problem of air pollution, they are affected by it more,” Jason Hill,  study co-author, University of Minnesota engineering professor, and who is also white, told USA Today. “Is it fair [that] I create more pollution, and somebody else is disproportionately affected by it?”

Air quality detrimentally affects Latinos in childhood diabetes, lung complications, and obesity.

What Does the Research Say?unclean air pollution

Researchers sought to answer two big questions. Which racial/ethnic group consumes the most products that cause air pollution? Who is most affected by that consumption?

Their findings?

While the products that cause air pollution are equally consumed across the race-spectrum, whites consume those products at significantly higher rates. Yet, they don’t take an equal part in the consequences.

“These results, as striking as they are, aren’t really surprising,” Ana Diez Roux, an epidemiology professor at Drexel University who was not involved in the study, told NPR. “But it’s really interesting to see consumption patterns rigorously documented suggesting that minority communities are exposed to pollution that they bear less responsibility for.”

The study examined who produces harmful air particles 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) that are hazardous to humans. They then tested the rates at which various groups faced exposure.

Minorities, by far, face greater air pollution risks:

  • Whites inhale 17% less air pollution than what is caused by what they consume
  • Blacks inhale 56% more air pollution than what is caused by what they consume
  • Latinos inhale 63% more air pollution than what is caused by what they consume

Where Does This Pollution Originate?

Most PM2.5s come from fumes that billow out of large smokestacks, car tailpipes, and other sources that release harmful gasses. From there the tiny particles will enter people’s bloodstream and cause side effects.

Researchers used various tools, including the EPA’s National Emissions Inventory, to calculate the PM2.5 concentrations from large (construction) and small sources (housing).

Still, some researchers don’t wholly agree with the study’s methods but do believe the research is solid.

unclean air pollution“They certainly make assumptions in their analysis that might be questioned down the line, but I doubt that the overall pattern they found will change,” Diez Roux said.

The findings may not surprise, but they reinforce the need for environmental social justice.

Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University, appreciates the conversation that stems from studies like these.

“These findings confirm what most grassroots environmental justice leaders have known for decades, ‘whites are dumping their pollution on poor people and people of color,’” Bullard, who was not one of the study’s researchers but is deeply involved in environmental social justice, told USA Today.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a collaboration between Salud America! and the Hoffman Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) program at UT Health- San Antonio. To find out if you are TILTed due to exposure to everyday foods, chemicals, or drugs, take a self-assessment or learn more about TILT.

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