Posted on June 12, 2023

Why the Wildfire Smoke Affects the Health of Poor People and Communities of Color the Most

Marquise Francis, Yahoo, June 8, 2023

As millions of Americans across the Midwest and the Northeast on Thursday woke up to hazy skies and significant air pollution for a third straight day caused by smoke drifting from hundreds of Canadian wildfires, the impact of the smoke has not been uniform.

Poorer people and many communities of color already at a higher risk of particle pollution in their everyday lives, experts say, are disproportionately being affected by this latest wave of smoke infiltrating the region.

“Whether it’s diesel trucks and buses in people’s neighborhoods, commuter cars or power plants — there are a lot of communities that have already been impacted by air pollution,” Sacoby Wilson, a public health professor at the University of Maryland, told Yahoo News. “This additional pollution from wildfires is making that situation worse.”

For many city inhabitants without quality air filtration and access to adequate health care options, living near sources of air pollution like major roadways, industrial facilities and ports can lead to a variety of health effects ranging from asthma to reduced lung function to cardiovascular disease. In the most extreme cases, it can lead to premature death.

Study reveals disparities

A study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health last year found that certain groups — Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Latinos and low-income populations — are being exposed to higher levels of dangerous fine particulate air pollution than other groups. Most often these communities are more densely populated, live in closer proximity to pollution-generating facilities and/or have jobs like bus drivers or in agriculture that expose them to the elements more often than others.

The research linked 17 years of demographic data with findings on fine particulate pollution from across the U.S. to reveal stark disparities in air pollution along racial and economic lines.

“Our findings regarding relative disparities indicate the importance of strong, targeted air-pollution-reduction strategies, not only to reduce overall air-pollution levels, but also to move closer toward the EPA’s aim to provide all people with the same degree of protection from environmental hazards,” Abdulrahman Jbaily, a former postdoctoral researcher at the Chan School and co-author of the study, said.