The worst 10 hotspots for fine particle air pollution in the US have been revealed by The Guardian in an analysis using cutting-edge modelling.
America’s top spot is not a traffic-clogged metropolis or renowned heavy industry zone but a small town surrounded by farmland and mountains.
These findings – based on a model developed by a team of researchers at institutions including the University of Washington – show that, across the contiguous US, the neighborhoods burdened by the worst pollution are overwhelmingly the same places where Black and Hispanic populations live. Race is more of a predictor of air pollution exposure than income level, researchers have found.
“What we’re seeing here is segregation,” said Julian Marshall, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Washington, co-director of the Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions and one of the team of researchers that created the computer model. “You have segregation of people and segregation of pollution.”
The fine particles of air pollution emitted by cars, factories, wildfires and dusty agricultural activities, known to researchers as PM2.5, are small enough to travel deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream, increasing death rates from causes like respiratory disease, heart attacks and strokes. New research is showing they are associated with a surprising array of health impacts, ranging from miscarriages and Covid-19 to kidney damage and blood infections.
This top 10 is based on data recorded between 2011 and 2015, the most recent years available for the national model. The age of the data is typical for current air pollution studies performed by academics. Researchers say pollution patterns tend to remain relatively steady over the years.
Check your own neighborhood’s air pollution in our interactive tool. And read on for the nation’s worst hotspots.