by Lex Frazier

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists has confirmed a fact that is common knowledge to affected neighborhoods: communities of color in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions are disproportionately exposed to air pollution from vehicles. The study, which utilized EPA and Census data, found that communities of color in those regions experience, on average, 66 percent more air pollution from cars, trucks, and buses than white communities.

When the researchers separated their sample by race, they determined that the average Latino resident experienced 75 percent more air pollution than the average white resident, while the average Asian American resident experienced 73 percent more and the average African American resident experienced 61 percent more. Additionally, 85 percent of people who live in the least vehicle-polluted areas are white.

This disparity is especially problematic because of its health implications. The type of pollution highlighted in this report, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, has been linked to heart and lung disease, among other illnesses. It is responsible for most of the three to four million deaths that occur worldwide as a result of air pollution.

How did such a catastrophe happen? It comes from decades of policy at all government levels that placed highways in communities of color while refusing to provide them with public transportation. While we may not be able to remove the massive amount of infrastructure that is causing this problem, we must try to mitigate air pollution in other ways and encourage better policy for the future.

One of the report’s key suggestions was that “regional, state, and local governments must target actions to reduce emissions in overburdened communities.” We at OTNA are advocating one way of accomplishing this goal: making more efficient use of freight transportation methods. If we can be smarter about how we transport goods, we can reduce vehicle air pollution in these affected areas.

To that end, we have started several projects to enable more environmentally conscious freight projects. We are creating the Triple Bottom Line Freight Data Bank to compile the environmental data that will facilitate green planning across the freight industry. We are also providing Triple Bottom Line Freight Benefit Cost Analysis, which will encourage individual infrastructure projects to be more intentional about their environmental impact.

While we cannot make centuries of discrimination disappear overnight, we can and will do our part to lessen the burden of air pollution on these communities for future generations.

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