People of Color Are More Likely to Live in Areas With Air Pollution
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People of Color Are More Likely to Live in Areas With Air Pollution

A quarter of Americans are breathing harmful air—and you might be one of them

The good news out of the EPA's new State of the Air report is that Americans are much better off as far as air quality than we were before the 1970 Clean Air Act began addressing awful air pollution in the country.

The bad news? Wildfires and ozone pollution from cars and power plants are still making things dangerous for about 119 million U.S. residents who are living with air pollution harmful enough to health to shorten lives.

And, of course, people of color are bearing the brunt of it: As reported by CNN, even though they represent 41 percent of the overall population, they're 54 percent of the 120 million people living in counties with a failing grade for unhealthy air. "And in the countries with the worst air quality, 72 percent of the 18 million residents are people of color," CNN writes.

Related: The Unintentional Racism Found in Traffic Signals

People living in Western states and in the Southwest are also at higher risk, with 10 California cities (including Los Angeles) making the EPA's list of 25 most-polluted cities. Other cities in the region with ozone-pollution issues include Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona, and Medford's-Grants Pass, Oregon. East of the Mississippi, top air-polluted cities include Chicago; New York; and Hartford, Connecticut.

The report mostly focuses on two types of pollution: ozone (the main ingredient in smog, which can worsen asthma and lead to respiratory diseases) and particle pollution (which can come from coal and natural-gas-fired power plants). Particle pollution can get stuck in your lungs and cause cancer, strokes, and heart attacks; it’s even been linked to higher risk of anxiety and depression.

Katherine Pruitt, who authored the report, said data on high levels of air pollution lines up with areas where communities were redlined and Black people were forced to live. "Those are communities that tend to have less of a voice, so decision makers place polluting sources in those communities because there’s not as much howling by people with power when they do. So those communities get the highways; they get the landfills; they get the fence lines,” she told CNN.

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