A study published in the Environmental Science & Technology Letters journal draws connections between race, historical redlining dating back to the 1930s and modern-day pollution. The study found that neighborhoods redlined in the 1930s tend to have higher pollution levels.

The study based its findings off of three main data points:

  • Redlining statistics.
  • 2010 pollution levels.
  • Demographics.
  • Study findings: Through this data, researchers found that “communities of color in the United States are systematically exposed to higher levels of air pollution.”
  • “We explore here how redlining, a discriminatory mortgage appraisal practice from the 1930s by the federal Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC), relates to present day intraurban air pollution in 202 U.S. cities.” 
  • The study found a 50% increase in pollution in redlined neighborhoods.
  • “Our findings illustrate how redlining, a nearly 80-year-old racially discriminatory policy, continues to shape systemic environmental exposure disparities in the United States,” the study stated.
  • “While air quality has improved in the United States over the past several decades, people of color (POC), particularly Black and Hispanic Americans, are still exposed to higher than average levels of air pollution,” according to the study.
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What is redlining? Encyclopedia Britannica explains redlining as an “illegal discriminatory practice in which a mortgage lender denies loans or an insurance provider restricts services to certain areas of a community, often because of the racial characteristics of the applicant’s neighborhood.”

  • The term “redlining” came from the marks used to outline the maps. Mixed-race or African American neighborhoods were outlined in red.
  • “Neighborhoods in more-affluent areas, which were deemed the most worthy of loans, were usually outlined in blue or green,” according to Britannica.
  • “To this day, historically redlined neighborhoods are more likely to have populations of Black, Latino and Asian residents than areas that were favorably assessed at the time,” reported The New York Times.

The dangers of pollution: Many children in previously redlined areas “suffer from asthma related to traffic and industrial pollution. Residents have long struggled to fend off development projects that make the air even worse,” reported The New York Times.

  • A 2019 study of eight cities in California found that people living in redlined neighborhoods were twice as likely to visit emergency rooms for asthma, according to The New York Times.

How redlining affects landscaping and infrastructure: These redlined neighborhoods are usually lower-income areas. These neighborhoods don’t receive the same services and funding as more affluent neighborhoods do.

  • “With less green space and more paved surfaces to absorb and radiate heat, historically redlined neighborhoods are 5 degrees hotter in summer, on average, than other areas,” according to The New York Times.

Is race a factor in pollution? The study further explains that racial and ethnic pollution exposure exist because of the “underlying sociological, economic and policy drivers” which operate on a “generational scale.”

  • “Multiple legacies of discrimination, including redlining and land use decision-making, have shaped the current spatial distributions of pollution sources among diverse communities,” according to the study.