Racial-ethnic exposure disparities to airborne ultrafine particles in the United States

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IOP Publishing

Ultrafine particles ('UFP'; <100 nm in diameter) are a subset of fine particulate matter (PM2.5); they have different sources and spatial patterns. Toxicological studies suggest UFP may be more toxic per mass than PM2.5. Racial-ethnic exposure disparities for PM2.5 are well documented; national exposure disparities for UFP remain unexplored due to a lack of national exposure estimates. Here, we combine high-spatial-resolution (census block level) national-scale estimates of long-term, ambient particle number concentrations (PNC; a measure of UFP) with publicly available demographic data (census block-group level) to investigate exposure disparities by race-ethnicity and income across the continental United States. PNC exposure for racial-ethnic minorities (Asian, Black, Hispanic) is 35% higher than the overall national mean. The magnitudes of exposure disparities vary spatially. Disparities are generally larger in densely populated metropolitan areas. The magnitudes of disparities are much larger for PNC than for PM2.5; PM2.5 exposure for racial-ethnic minorities is 9% higher than the overall national mean. Our analysis shows that PNC exposure disparities cannot be explained by differences in income. Whites of all incomes, including low-income Whites, have substantially lower average PNC exposures than people of color of all incomes. A higher proportion of traffic and other PNC sources are located near many minority communities. This means that the exposure disparities are structural and strongly tied to where certain subsets of the population live and that simply reducing PNC emissions nationwide will not reduce these disparities.

ultrafine particles, exposure disparity, people of color