Nov 16, 2021 - News
Study: Air pollution plagues D.C. residents of color
A map of the area's of D.C. with the worst air pollution.
Screenshot: NASA Earth Observatory

D.C. neighborhoods historically populated by residents of color have higher amounts of fine particle pollution and higher rates of disease, according to a recent NASA Earth Observatory study.

  • Significant portions of Southeast, Southwest, and Northeast D.C. were identified as areas that have poorer air quality.

Why it matters: Exposure to air pollution has been connected to diseases such as lung cancer and stroke.

  • Asthma-related emergency room visits were 30 times higher in Southeast than in Northwest, according to study.

Zoom out: Overall, the number of D.C. residents killed by diseases related to air pollution exposure has decreased.

  • These improvements, according to NASA's research, come following the passage of clean air laws in 2000.
  • Since then the amount of fine particle pollution in the city has gone down by 50%, according to the research, and the number of residents killed by related diseases has decreased by the same number. 
  • However, after studying hospital records and air pollution data, researchers found that similar improvements haven’t occurred evenly throughout the city.

Yes, but: Other factors such as access to healthy food and health care, smoking, and chronic stress compound air pollution issues and related diseases.

What they say: “There isn’t a one-to-one relationship between polluted air and poor health outcomes,” Maria Castillo, a research associate at George Washington University, said in the report.

  • “But there is a large and growing body of evidence that makes clear that air pollution hits disadvantaged communities harder because people in these communities are more likely to breathe polluted air and because baseline health disparities make exposure to pollution especially harmful.”
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