In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers led by the University of Washington (UW) investigated the Clean Air Act--initially enacted over 50 years ago--to ascertain its effectiveness or if new approaches are required, specifically pertaining to people of color at every income level in the US. This study holds the potential to help us better combat climate change and the effects of pollution on the environment.
"In earlier research, we wanted to know which pollution sources were responsible for these disparities, but we found that nearly all sources lead to unequal exposures. So, we thought, what's it going to take? Here, we tried three approaches to see which would be the best for addressing these disparities," said Dr. Julian Marshall, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering, and a co-author on the study. "The two approaches that mirror aspects of the Clean Air Act were pretty weak at addressing disparities. The third approach, targeting emissions in specific locations, is not commonly done, but is something overburdened communities have been asking for years."
For the study, the researchers used a tool called InMAP, which stands for Intervention Model for Air Pollution that models the physics and chemistry of fine particulate matter pollution PM2.5. They tested three potential strategies to observe the efficiency and effectiveness of mitigating average air pollution exposure for everyone, along with eliminating air pollution variations for people of color. The findings demonstrated that while overall exposure was reduced across the US, they also failed to address pollution variations.
"Current regulations have improved average air pollution levels, but they have not addressed structural inequalities and often have ignored the voices and lived experiences of people in overburdened communities, including their requests to focus greater attention on sources impacting their communities," said Dr. Marshall. "These findings reflect historical experiences. Because of redlining and other racist urban planning from many decades ago, many pollution sources are more likely to be located in Black and brown communities. If we wish to address current inequalities, we need an approach that reflects and acknowledges this historical context."
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!