For Immediate Release
March 15, 2019
Contact Information

Abby Figueroa
West Coast Communications Officer | 510-809-1564|

(BPRW) African Americans in California Bear the Biggest Air Pollution Burden from Vehicles

By Dr. David Reichmuth

(Black PR Wire) Berkeley, CA --  There’s been a long-held suspicion that people of color in California bear the brunt of air pollution in the state. I recently conducted an analysis that confirms just that—at least when it comes to fine particulate matter from vehicles. These are particles so small they can penetrate deeply into the lungs and sometimes even the bloodstream.

Using a computer model, I estimated the amount of this pollution (known as PM2.5) from vehicles across the state and overlaid it with data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The findings are troubling: African Americans are exposed to 18 percent more PM2.5 from cars, trucks and buses than the average Californian and 43 percent more than the average white Californian. On average, across the state, the study found air pollution is lower where the percentage of white Californians is higher.

While PM2.5 is not the only air pollutant that adversely affects health, long-term exposure to it causes increased death rates attributed to cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, and it has been linked to other detrimental impacts such as lung cancer. Chronic exposure to PM2.5 in children has also been linked to slowed lung-function growth, development of asthma and other health impacts.

Los Angeles County has the highest average PM2.5 exposure from cars and trucks in the state, nearly two-thirds more than the average pollution level for the state. The worst regions of the San Francisco Bay Area, such as downtown Oakland and San Jose, have annual average PM2.5 concentrations equal to the average across Los Angeles County.

The lowest earning California households (earning less than $20,000 per year) are exposed to 25 percent more PM2.5 pollution than the highest earning California households (earning more than $200,000 per year).

California has made enormous strides over the past several decades to reduce overall pollution from vehicles, but this data shows people of color still breathe higher amounts of this pollution. We need to do more to make sure all Californians breathe clean air.

California must continue to prioritize clean vehicle programs and do everything it can to eliminate the inequitable burden on people of color.

Dr. David Reichmuth is a senior engineer in the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a national expert on vehicle electrification. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees, both in chemical engineering, from University of California Berkeley.