Thursday, March 09, 2023

The Worst Air Pollution in America

Bakersfield in California has the worst air pollution in the United States. The second worst air pollution can be found in South Los Angeles. In South Los Angeles the dangerous levels of particulate matter 2.5 are caused by freeways and toxic factories. Bakersfield however is an agricultural community. The fine particulars in Bakersfield's air emanate instead from farming chemicals and truck fumes which are then trapped by the surrounding mountains.

You can find out how bad the air pollution is in your town on The Guardian's new Air Pollution Hotspot interactive map. Enter an address into The Guardian's map and you can view a choropleth map which visualizes the levels of particulate matter 2.5 at that location. 

The Guardian's map shows estimated modeled levels of air pollution across the United States. These estimations are based on the location of contributing air pollution factors such as roads, elevation levels & whether an area is urban or rural. The map also uses satellite-derived estimates of air pollution and, where available, actual air pollution measurements.

In an article which accompanies the map, US neighborhoods with more people of color suffer worse air pollution, The Guardian reveals that across the country "the underlying variable that is most predictive (of air pollution) is systemic racism". It has found that nearly every area with dangerously high levels of air pollution has higher than average percentages of Black families living in them. 

One reason for this is that black neighborhoods are often used as the sites for heavy polluting roads and industry. For example The Guardian shows how in Atlanta the map of air pollution looks remarkably similar to early-20th Century federal redlining maps. In the years that followed redlining "freeways and polluting facilities tended to be sited in those areas because the minority communities that lived there didn’t have the political or social clout to stop their construction".

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