In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 250 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: people in poor, non-white neighborhoods breathe more pollutants. This is The Two Minute Drill for Friday, April 25, 2014.
In a 2010 memo outlining the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) top priorities, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote, “We must include environmental justice principles in all of our decisions . . . especially with regard to children.” Overall air pollution has improved over the years since the Clean Air Act was passed in 2010. But despite the progress that has been made, certain areas face larger exposure to pollutants.
The Explanation (250 or Bust)
Writing in the journal PLOS One, researchers at the University of Minnesota investigated environmental injustice and inequality in residential nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution for the contiguous US population. NO2, which is one of the six US EPA criteria pollutants, is primarily emitted from combustion in vehicles and power plants. And, like other traffic emissions, it is linked to asthma and decreased lung function in children, low birth-weights, and cardiovascular and respiratory mortality (e.g., ischemic heart disease mortality). Long-term exposure to common air pollution like NO2 increases the risks.
According to the research, there is a significant (and widening) racial and economic gap when it comes to air pollution. Communities of color and those with low education, high poverty rates, and high unemployment face greater health risks, even if their air quality meets federal health standards. More precisely, non-whites experience 38% higher residential outdoor NO2 concentrations than whites, even after controlling for region, race, and income. This exposure gap has potentially large impacts to public health. If non-whites breathed the lower NO2 levels experienced by whites, it would prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease alone each year, the researchers estimated.
The findings of the University of Minnesota study add to the evidence of environmental injustice and inequality in our country. As The Washington Post recently noted, “Something is going on here in the kinds of communities where minorities of all incomes live.”
Word Count: 237
The Five Best Things We’ve Read This Week
Here are the five most interesting articles we’ve read this week:
- “The Food and Drug Administration has proposed the first-ever regulations to tame the ‘Wild West’ of electronic cigarettes.” From The Atlantic: What the New E-Cig Rules Don’t Do.
- “Early in his career, [Steve Jobs] was petulant, mean, and destructive. Only by leaving Apple, humbling himself, and finding a second success – with Pixar – was he able to mature into the leader who would return to Apple and build it into the world’s most valuable company. Larry Page is the Steve Jobs of Google.” From Business Insider: The Untold Story of LarryPage’s Incredible Comeback.
- “There’s no denying that climbing Everest is a preposterously dangerous undertaking for the members who provide the Sherpas’ income. But running counter to the disturbing trend among Sherpas, climbing Everest has actually grown significantly safer for Western guides and members in recent years.” From Jon Krakauer in The New Yorker: Death and Anger on Everest.
- “About 4 in 10 say they are not too confident or outright disbelieve that the earth is warming, mostly a result of man-made heat trapping gases, that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old or that life on Earth evolved through a process of natural selection, though most were at least somewhat confident in each of those concepts. But a narrow majority – 51 percent – questions the Big Bang theory.” From the AP: Big Bang a Big Question for Most Americans.
- “Ideas are cheap. I have more ideas now than I could ever write up. To my mind, it’s the execution that is all-important . . . If I was a religious guy, I’d say it’s a gift from God, but I’m not, so I can’t say that.” Rolling Stone interviews Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin.
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week took a look at the latest IPCC report on climate change. Read the Column – Work to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change Must Begin Now.