“Strong Evidence” of Systemic Bias in California Pollution Exposure: Study

There is “strong evidence” of systemic racial and ethnic bias in air pollution control across California, according to a new study from UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS).

The researchers assessed air pollution data before the coronavirus pandemic began and when California’s first stay-at-home order was in place. They found that predominantly Asian and Hispanic communities saw a greater drop in air pollution exposure during the shutdown than predominantly white areas, which the researchers say means that Asian areas and Hispanics in the state “experience significantly more air pollution from economic activity compared to predominantly white neighborhoods.” Meanwhile, declines in pollution exposure were not “statistically significant” in black communities, instead remaining closer to pre-pandemic levels.

Jennifer Burney, Chancellor Marshall Saunders Endowed Chair in Global Climate Policy and GPS Research, suggested the study’s findings were at odds with what one might expect of the blue state.

“You would think that in a state with strong environmental policies, where we track what is emitted and where, our regulatory system could do a good job of protecting everyone equally,” Burney said in a statement. press Thursday. “But it’s really strong evidence of systemic bias.”

Researchers say a new study of air pollution exposure in California offers “very strong evidence of systemic bias.” Above, smog hangs over downtown Los Angeles on June 11, 2019, a day considered to have “moderate” air quality.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The study was published by Natural durability days after the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared a report warning that it is “now or never” for the world to limit global temperature rise by taking measures against climate change. An estimated 99% of the world’s population breathe polluted air beyond “internationally approved levels”, the World Health Organization warned this week. The UN attributes one in nine deaths to air pollution and estimates 13 people die from it every 60 seconds.

For the GPS study, Burney noted that while income is often linked to discussions of pollution exposure, it “explains only about 15% of the disproportionate decrease in air pollution experienced by Asian and Hispanic communities during the shutdown” in California. Income alone “does not explain racial and ethnic biases in how our economy creates and distributes pollution,” Burney added.

The study’s findings regarding income mirror a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study published last year. Nationwide, “people of color breathe in more particulate air pollution on average, a finding that holds across all income levels and regions of the United States,” the EPA said at the time.

GPS researchers assessed air pollution data using satellite measurements of nitrogen dioxide and 830 air monitoring networks, 106 of which are operated by the California Air Resources Board, the remainder being private property. The researchers noted that similar studies in the future could assess air pollution over a longer period of time, which would help take “natural seasonal oscillations” into account “in depth”.

While the study was limited to assessing air pollution exposure in California, the researchers “believe that the air quality disparity between ethnicities most likely applies to other states,” according to the press release. He said researchers “take this as evidence of environmental policy failure”.

When reached for comment on Friday, the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) said Newsweek that agency officials have yet to review the study in full, but said the state is “committed to addressing the disproportionate impacts of the climate crisis on low-income communities and communities of color”.

“The state is stepping up efforts to advance fair climate and air quality goals through an unprecedented $37.6 billion proposed climate budget, stepping up enforcement efforts and continuing to enact regulations to address harmful pollution,” CalEPA said. “This administration has also taken bold steps to reduce the demand for oil by ending the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, phasing out harmful oil production in our communities, and increasing access to zero-emission mobility in low-income communities.”


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