How Redlining Has Contributed to Air Pollution Across America

Urban neighborhoods that were demarcated by federal officials in the 1930s tended to have higher levels of harmful air pollution eight d...


Urban neighborhoods that were demarcated by federal officials in the 1930s tended to have higher levels of harmful air pollution eight decades later, a new study found, adding to a body of evidence that reveals how past racist policies have contributed to inequality across the United States today.

Following the Great Depression, when the federal government classified neighborhoods in hundreds of cities for real estate investment, black and immigrant areas were typically outlined in red on maps to indicate risky places to lend. Racial discrimination in housing was banned in 1968. But redlining maps have entrenched discriminatory practices whose effects reverberate nearly a century later.

To date, historically delineated neighborhoods are more likely to have a high population of Black, Latino, and Asian residents than the areas rated favorably at the time.

East Bay in California is a clear example.

The Berkeley and Oakland neighborhoods that have been delineated are on lower ground, closer to industry and crossed by major highways. People in these areas experience nitrogen dioxide levels twice as high as in areas designated by federal investigators in the 1930s as “best” or most preferred for investment, according to the new pollution study. .

Margaret Gordon has decades of experience with these inequalities in West Oakland, a historically bounded neighborhood. Many children suffer there asthma related to traffic and industrial pollution. Residents have long struggled to push back development projects that make it look even worse.

“These people don’t have the ability to vote, or the elected officials, or the money to hire lawyers to fight this,” said Ms. Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an advocacy group.

The lead author of the new study, Haley M. Lane, said she was surprised to find that the differences in air pollution exposure between red-lined and top-rated districts were even greater. that well-documented disparities in exposure between people of color and white Americans.

“At the same time, there are so many other effects that create these disparities, and these redlining delineations are just one of them,” said Ms. Lane, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at the University of California. in Berkeley.

Researchers have unearthed patterns of all kinds since researchers digitized a large collection of redlining cards in 2016.

With less green space and more paved surfaces to absorb and radiate heat, historically delineated neighborhoods are 5 degrees warmer in summer, on average, than the other regions. A 2019 study from eight California cities found that residents of gated neighborhoods were twice as likely to visit emergency rooms for asthma.

The latest study, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, looked at neighborhoods in 202 cities and their exposure to two pollutants harmful to human health: nitrogen dioxide, a gas associated with vehicle exhaust , industrial facilities and other sources; and the dangerous microscopic particles known as PM 2.5. The study was funded in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Joshua S. Apte, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley who worked on the study, said he assumed neighborhood differences would be more pronounced in certain areas, such as the South. Instead, the patterns he and his colleagues found were remarkably consistent across the country.

“This history of racist planning is so deeply rooted in American cities of all kinds, everywhere,” Dr. Apte said. “We went looking for that regional story, and it’s not there.”

Surveyors hired by the government in the 1930s assigned each neighborhood one of four letter grades, from most to least desirable. And the new study found that the least desirable “D” neighborhoods decades later are generally more exposed to dirty air, and more of their residents live near highways, railroads and springs. of industrial pollution.

This is partly because some areas classified as “C” or “D” in the 1930s were already home to heavy industry and other sources of pollution. Over time, the lack of investment in these neighborhoods also made them attractive for new polluting projects, such as the interstate highways, which required cheap land.

One limitation of the study is that it only examines demographic and pollution information from 2010. When the researchers began their analysis, information from the 2020 census was still being collected, they said. They reran their analysis using pollution data from 2015 and found consistent trends.

Overall air pollution has decreased in the United States since 2010, but other research suggests racial and income disparities exposure persisted.

The racial makeup of some cities has also changed over the last decade due to gentrification and other factors, and more research needs to be done to determine how this has affected pollution inequalities, said Rachel Morello-Frosch, an environmental health scientist at Berkeley who contributed to the study.

Given the extent to which some cities have grown since the 1930s, neighborhoods on redlining maps encompass only a portion of today’s population. Even so, the disparities in Americans’ exposure to air pollution in these cities are often not hard to spot.

Leticia Gutierrez, director of government relations and community outreach at Air Alliance Houston, an environmental group, said concrete plants often end up being built in minority neighborhoods in the city because developers think people are there. less likely to object.

Language barriers deter some residents from participating in public hearings. Only recently have state authorities started publishing more information in Spanish and Vietnamese, Ms Gutierrez said.

When Ms. Gutierrez wants to take her children to the park, she drives across town from her home on the East Side of Houston, which is heavily Hispanic.

“It’s like every time you want to have a picnic or be outside, especially on a nice day, it doesn’t smell good,” she said. “And you go to the West Side, and you’re like, ‘OK, I can breathe here.'”

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Newsrust - US Top News: How Redlining Has Contributed to Air Pollution Across America
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