Study finds that public housing residents experience higher levels of air pollution
Residents of public housing in the United States experience higher levels of air pollution, according to an interinstitutional study led by a researcher from the University of Texas at El Paso, which appeared in Scientific Reports†
Jayajit Chakraborty, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, said the article, “Differences in Exposure to Air Pollution in U.S. Housing Developments” is the first national-scale study demonstrating the exposure differences of particulate matter on public housing residents. in the entire country.
Chakraborty, founder and director of UTEP’s Socio-Environmental and Geospatial Analysis (SEGA) Lab, has been studying social inequalities in the distribution of environmental pollution and health risks for more than 20 years. He said previous research had not examined whether social housing projects were located in areas with more outdoor air pollution. A high percentage of the country’s public housing residents include minorities, the elderly, those with disabilities or pre-existing health problems, and others who lack the resources to deal with environmental pollution.
The UTEP researcher said the study found that U.S. public housing is significantly overrepresented in neighborhoods with more outdoor particulate matter, an inhalable mixture of small solids and/or liquid droplets made from various chemicals that is about 3% of the diameter of a human hair. He said their research also found that public housing with a lot of particulate matter had a significantly higher percentage of residents who were black, Hispanic, disabled and/or extremely low-income.
“These findings represent an important starting point for future research and highlight the urgent need to identify gaps in environmental, public health and housing policies that have contributed to higher air pollution exposure among residents of public housing,” Chakraborty said.
The UTEP researcher collaborated with University of Utah collaborators Timothy W. Collins, Ph.D., professor of geology, and Sara E. Grineski, Ph.D., professor of sociology and environmental studies. Both worked at UTEP from 2006 to 2017. The other team member was Jacob J. Aun, a UTEP graduate student of sociology. The team began collecting the data in July 2021, completed the analysis in January 2022, wrote the article last spring and submitted it to Scientific Reports in Apr 2022.
Collins said exposure to particulate matter can have serious consequences for human health. He said outdoor exposure is responsible for 3% of all deaths and 22% of deaths from environmental factors across the country.
“Our study is especially relevant today given that the US is facing a severe housing crisis as affordable housing is not suitable for a growing, financially insecure population,” Collins said. “Access to safe shelter is a basic need that remains unmet for many.”
Grineski said she has been concerned for more than 15 years about the effects of air pollution on residents of public housing.
“I was excited to continue this study with Dr. Chakraborty to quantitatively assess this issue on a nationwide scale,” Grineski said. “Public housing is an incredibly important and necessary public good in the US. However, we need to do better in improving the environmental quality for residents.”
Chakraborty said the next step in this research is to examine the relationship between social housing developments and pollution sources such as Superfund sites and industrial production facilities. He also wants to investigate how natural disasters affect the residents of public housing.
“It is my hope that this article will reach a large number of readers and draw attention to the environmental problems facing residents of public housing in the US,” Chakraborty said.
Aun, the student researcher, said he was delighted to be part of the team. He helped download and analyze data and helped Chakraborty edit the article.
“It was a great learning experience,” Aun said. “I am very proud of the work we have accomplished and how it is helping to identify social differences in exposure to air pollution.”
Jayajit Chakraborty et al, Differences in Air Pollution Exposure in US Public Housing Projects, Scientific Reports (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-13942-3
Quote: Research shows social housing residents experience more air pollution (2022, June 21), retrieved June 21, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-housing-residents-higher-air-pollution.html
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