Minorities face brunt of air pollution from cars — study

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2019

Air pollution from cars, trucks and buses in California disproportionately affects Latino and African-American residents, according to a new study.

The Union of Concerned Scientists found that exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) for those groups is roughly 40 percent higher because of where they live. Income also matters: The study said the lowest-earning California households, or those making less than $20,000 annually, are exposed to 25 percent more particulate pollution than households that earn more than $200,000 per year.

“Residents in the communities most affected have known for generations there was a disproportionate amount of air pollution in their neighborhoods,” said David Reichmuth, a senior engineer at UCS and author of the analysis. “This modeling allows us to quantify the extent of the disparity across the state.”

California has worked for many years to cut pollution from vehicles, but “this data shows people of color still breathe higher amounts of pollution,” he said.

According to the study, particulate matter from vehicles is highest in Central Bakersfield. In Los Angeles County, residents are exposed to 60 percent more vehicle pollution than the state average and 250 percent more than people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Parts of the Bay Area, however, such as West Oakland and San Jose, have pollution on par with LA averages, the study said.

People who don’t own cars deliberately or because of financial circumstances are exposed to 19 percent more particle pollution than the state average because they tend to live in urban areas surrounded by traffic.

“The irony should not be lost on local leaders and clean air advocates,” Reichmuth said.

The UCS analysis recommended expanding state policies aimed at reducing vehicle pollution in overburdened communities. Those include a rebate program for purchases of low- and zero-emissions vehicles, which has larger incentives for lower-income households. The state also has a program to encourage swapping out the highest-polluting vehicles for cleaner ones (Climatewire, May 28, 2015).

The study comes as California environmental justice groups are fighting for actions to help low-income and ethnic minority groups living near freeways, refineries and other sources of air pollution.

“Overall, what we probably hear the most from environmental justice groups is a desire to phase out use of fossil fuels,” said Bill Magavern, policy director at the Coalition for Clean Air, a Golden State green group.

That would require a move to ZEVs and generating electricity 100 percent from renewable sources, he said.

This legislative session, state Assemblymember Phil Ting (D) is offering A.B. 40 to require the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to “develop a comprehensive strategy” to ensure that sales of new cars and light-duty trucks in the state are all zero-emission vehicles by 2040.

Meanwhile, CARB is putting in place A.B. 617, which passed last year. That law requires local air districts in the most polluted parts of the state by October to produce plans to cut that pollution, though the measure did not specify by what amount.

Areas that will have to submit plans include West Oakland; the San Bernardino County region; and a swath that includes the LA suburbs of West Long Beach, Wilmington and Carson. Most of the air pollution in those places is from mobile sources, Magavern said.

“It’s about traffic pollution, freight hubs, land-use decisions,” such as the siting of ports, rail yards and warehouses, Magavern said.