Smoke from the Somerset tire fire, Somerset, WI. Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Air pollution affects different American populations differently—and guess who's safest?

The air quality in most of America's major cities, Los Angeles notwithstanding, is largely safe. However, within many major former industrial cities—especially those split along racial and class lines—there exist neighborhoods of largely lower-class black and Latino residents who are subject to far worse air pollution than many of their neighbors.

For instance, in Chicago, which has the highest amount of air particulates of any large American city, residents of majority-Latino neighborhoods Pilsen, Little Village, and the far Southeast Side have been fighting—with mixed success at best—against polluters and the city bureaucracies that have allowed them to pollute neighborhoods for decades. Far Southeast Side residents successfully got a Koch Industries-owned petroleum coke refinery to skip town and pay a settlement, but the settlement only amounted to some $60 per resident.

Nov 1, 2016

China is opening one coal plant a week for the next four years

China leads the world in deaths linked to air pollution, with some 1.6 million a year. (India has 1.3 million.) Burning coal, China's main source of energy, is the main culprit. A recent peer-reviewed study linked the industry directly to over 360,000 deaths a year, or about 22 percent of the total.

In 2013, Xi Jinping's government published a five-year plan that would curb coal emissions. It also eased restrictions on media reporting on the pollution crisis, and earlier this year ratified the Paris Climate Agreement. However, loopholes in Xi's policies and existing projects put the Chinese government on track to open an average of one coal plant a week for the next four years, found a Greenpeace report published earlier this year.

Nov 1, 2016

On days when the smog is bad, we avoid going outside. We make sure the windows are sealed shut. If I see an open window or door in the hallway, I try to close it. But some windows are too high up for me to reach.

Residents of cities like Beijing, New Delhi, Hanoi, and the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator write about the toll air pollution takes on daily life.
↩︎ The New York Times
Nov 1, 2016
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