If you’re someone who values clean air, there are certain places in the United States that you should avoid. A recent analysis by The Guardian, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Washington and other institutions, ranked the neighborhoods in the contiguous U.S. with the worst air pollution.
You might be surprised to learn that the place with the most polluted air in the U.S. isn’t a big city but a small town in California. Bakersfield, located in California’s Central Valley and about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, has the most unhealthy air in the country. This is mainly due to the region’s oil and gas production and mining and petroleum refining. Unfortunately, the area has failed to meet the Clean Air Act’s target for most of the last 25 years.
But Bakersfield is one of many places with poor air quality. South Los Angeles ranked second on the list, with many landlocked neighborhoods surrounded by freeways, railyards, and warehouses. Compared to people who live across town in the affluent Bel Air neighborhood, South Los Angeles residents breathe 50 percent more polluted air.
Chicago’s south and west sides came in third, with neighborhoods like Back of the Yards and Riverdale that have been used to store toxic materials. North-west Indiana, Central Indianapolis, Houston, St. Louis, Central Pennsylvania, Central Atlanta, and Central Birmingham also made a list.
What’s concerning is that the analysis shows that neighborhoods with the worst air quality were predominantly Black and Hispanic. This highlights a more significant issue of segregation, with people and pollution being segregated.
So, what can we do about it? While individuals can make choices that reduce their carbon footprint, such as driving less and eating a plant-based diet, systemic change is needed to address the root causes of air pollution. This includes supporting policies and legislation prioritizing clean energy and reducing emissions from industries like oil and gas. We can also support community-led initiatives to reduce pollution and promote environmental justice.
It’s important to remember that air pollution affects everyone but disproportionately impacts marginalized communities. By advocating for cleaner air and supporting solutions that benefit everyone, we can help create a more just and sustainable future for all.
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