U.S. Communities of Color Breathing Higher Levels of Toxic Metal Pollution, Study Finds

An ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

An ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. WClarke via Wikipedia

Not only do U.S. communities of color breathe more fine particulate pollution, they also breathe a form of particulate pollution that is richer in toxic, cancer-causing metals, new research finds.

Particulate pollution is comprised of many different components, not all of which are known to cause illness. The high levels of toxic metals in communities of color may be linked to greater prevalence of lung and heart ailments.

For the study, researchers tracked levels of lead, copper, nickel, and other toxic metals that originate from industrial sources, finding higher concentrations of those particulates in racially segregated communities.

“This is the unfortunate result of systemic racial and ethnic injustices, such as redlining, that have plagued our nation’s history,” said John Volckens, a professor of environmental engineering at Colorado State University and a coauthor of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications.

The research further showed that the disparity in toxic metal particulates is greater than the disparity in particulates overall. In highly segregated communities, concentrations of particulate pollution are twice as high as in well-integrated communities, but concentrations of toxic metal particulates are up to 20 times as high. “In short, different populations experience ‘different kinds of particles,’” authors wrote.


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