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Study: WI has third largest racial disparity for exposure to dangerous air pollution particles

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Posted at 9:07 AM, May 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-27 10:53:01-04

WISCONSIN — A recent study looked into dangerous pollution particle exposure among different racial groups across the country. It found that Wisconsin has the third largest racial disparity.

The study, led by Dr. Christopher Tessum at the University of Illinois, was done in collaboration with researchers at the Universities of California, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington.

When it was completed, Clean Wisconsin analyzed the data from the study and focused on Wisconsin-specific findings.

Clean Wisconsin Staff Scientist Paul Mathewson said the organization found that people of color are exposed to 26% more dangerous pollution particles than the state average. The number for Black residents' exposure is even higher, at 41%.

“Wisconsin has one of the largest racial disparities in the nation when it comes to exposure to dangerous particulate matter,” Mathewson said. “There are so many issues related to particulate matter exposure. It shortens lives and causes a variety of health problems. It’s incredibly important that we understand which communities are being hurt by this exposure."

According to a news release, Clean Wisconsin takes this data and uses it to help guide environmental advocacy work by "identifying and prioritizing pollution sources that are harming Wisconsin communities."

Clean Wisconsin also found that transportation and industrial sources are the largest contributors to this pollution. The study found that people of color in Wisconsin are exposed to 44% more dangerous pollution particles from industrial sources than the state average.

"Black residents, in particular, are exposed to 67% more pollution,” Mathewson says. “The Milwaukee area has by far the largest disparity, but it persists in other major cities examined in the study including Green Bay, Appleton, Wausau, and Sheboygan.

The Wisconsin Environmental Health Network weighed in on the results, saying these findings should be cause for alarm.

"Doctors can only do so much. We must have better public policy to reduce industrial and transportation sources of fossil fuel burning,” says Dr. Claire Gervais, Clinical Associate Professor with the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

Dr. Jed Downs, an osteopathic manipulative therapy specialist in Fitchburg, Wis., said these particles can evade the body's defenses that keep junk out of the lungs. He said they settle in air sacs, where they can damage sac walls.

"When the reaction is dramatic enough, the individual will have an asthma attack or an exacerbation of other pre-existing lung problems. The particles can then enter the bloodstream which can promote inflammation and clotting leading to stroke and heart attack in susceptible individuals," Downs said.

Read the full report from Clean Wisconsin:

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