Earth, Space, and Environmental Chemistry

Local and Regional-Scale Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Air Pollution Determined by Long-Term Mobile Monitoring


Disparity in air pollution exposure arises from variation at multiple spatial scales: along urban-to-rural gradients, between individual cities within a metropolitan region, within individual neighborhoods, and between city blocks. Here, we improve on existing capabilities to systematically compare urban variation at several scales, from hyperlocal (<100m) to regional (>10km), and to assess consequences for outdoor air pollution experienced by residents of different races and ethnicities, by creating a set of uniquely extensive and high-resolution observations of spatially-variable pollutants: NO, NO<sub>2</sub>, black carbon (BC), and ultrafine particles (UFP). We conducted full-coverage monitoring of a wide sample of urban and suburban neighborhoods (93 km<sup>2</sup>, 450,000 residents) in four counties of the San Francisco Bay Area using Google Street View cars equipped with the Aclima mobile platform. Comparing scales of variation across the sampled population, greater differences arise from localized pollution gradients for BC and NO (pollutants dominated by primary sources) and from regional gradients for UFP and NO<sub>2</sub>(pollutants dominated by secondary contributions). Median concentrations of UFP, NO, and NO<sub>2</sub> are, for Hispanic and Black populations, 8%-30% higher than the population average; for white populations, average exposures to these pollutants are 9%-14% lower than the population average. Systematic racial/ethnic disparities are influenced by regional concentration gradients due to sharp contrasts in demographic composition among cities and urban districts, while within-group extremes arise from local peaks. Our results illustrate how detailed and extensive fine-scale pollution observations can add new insights about differences and disparities in air pollution exposures at the population scale.

Version notes

Revisions to the discussion section to describe the emissions sources that drive environmental disparities.


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Supplementary material

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Revised SI file
Revised version of the SI Appendix.