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Air pollution and environmental justice – a case from Minnesota (USA)

A recent study[1] conducted by University of Minnesota (USA) offers an interesting overview on the relationship between exposure to air pollution and social inequalities.

Researchers from department of civil engineering calculated the difference of ethnic groups’ exposure to Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) in United States. The results clearly show a dependence between ethnic group belonging and level of exposure: the study considered the level of emission in the area of residence and the ethnic belonging. Researchers  distinguished between two broad categories, such as white and non white (including afro-americans, hispanic and asians), basically comparing the economic and political leading group with the others.

According to the data the differential between the white and non-white indicates significative imbalanced exposure in 38 states. Highest values has been recorded on the East Coast and Mid-East of the US, such as New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Once again, this evidences point out that environmental issues represent also a matter of social inequality. As other researches pointed out in the past the higher exposure of disadvantaged social groups to unhealthy environmental threats[2]. Indeed, specific groups of people can suffer of worse level of security, being exposed to particular hazards and health risks.

Air quality is not an exception in this sense. Even if, in principle, air pollution does not know boundaries, it affects very often specific areas. In the past, scholars dealt with this topic demonstrating for example how low incomes is an explicative factor for the level of exposure to air  pollution[3].

Environmental justice, when specific social groups pay environmental costs without benefit of the profits, is definitely one of the key issues for what concerns air quality. For other environmental problems, such as waste management and climate change, the discrepancy is an international affair, following the inequality between rich an poor countries. Indeed, air quality appears to determine a environmental inequality that traces social cleavages within the same society. Sefira Project will consider also this research topic during its analysis of Air Quality Policies that is ongoing in Working Package 3 and that will deliver its Research Paper on the Social Analysis of EU Policies by the end of 2014.



[2] Capek S.M. (1993) The “environmental justice” frame: a conceptual discussion and an application, Social problems, 40, pp. 5-24

[3]Jerrett M, Burnett R T, Kanaroglou P, Eyles J, Finkelstein N, Giovis C, Brook J R, 2001, A GIS – environmental justice analysis of particulate air pollution in Hamilton, Canada Environment and Planning A 33(6) 955 – 973;

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Socio Economic implications For Individual Responses to Air Pollution policies in EU +27

SEFIRA has the objective of creating a European coordination of transdisciplinary scientific and socio-economic resources in order to support the review and implementation of air quality legislation by the European Commission (EC) led by DG Environment. SEFIRA will coordinate some of the best scientific and socio-economic resources and will review air quality policies and legislation at the interface between environmental, economic and social sciences in order to achieve a deeper understanding of these complex issues. The main fields involved in the action will be atmospheric sciences, environmental and legal sociology, anthropology, geography and economics.