By Ashley Verhines, February 12, 2014
Many recent studies have shown that air pollution levels and income
levels are linked. Poorer communities suffer from bad air more than
wealthy communities. A recent study by UCLA researchers revealed some
complications in this correlation, but found that air pollution is still
about environmental justice.
The researchers drove a
zero-emissions vehicle through four residential Los Angeles
neighborhoods to collect data on real-time concentrations of toxic
ultrafine particles. Mar Vista's North Westdale, a middle-class
neighborhood downwind of the Santa Monica Airport, scored worst.
Surprisingly, the freeway-surrounded Boyle Heights neighborhood scored
slightly better for these pollutants, followed closely by downtown Los
Angeles. Less surprisingly, the affluent West Los Angeles neighborhood
scored significantly better than the other three.
ultrafine air pollutants are known to cause asthma, heart attacks,
stroke, diabetes, low birth weight and other health complications.
Focusing on these types of pollutants instead of smog and ozone--which
have been the subject of significant prior research--was critical to the
study, which was published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.
Suzanne Paulson, a professor in UCLA's Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
Department and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
directed the research with Arthur Winer, a professor in UCLA's Fielding
School of Public Health, and Wonsik Choi, a postgraduate researcher who
led the fieldwork and drove the vehicle that collected the air samples.
researchers found that while there were no significant differences in
more traditional air pollutants like larger "PM2.5" particles between
neighborhoods, readings of the tiniest airborne particles, the
concentration of ultrafine particles (less than 0.1 microns in diameter)
varied widely between neighborhoods on summer afternoons.
North Westdale neighborhood is heavily impacted by aircraft activities
at Santa Monica Airport," said Suzanne Paulson. "It has exceptionally
high levels of ultrafine particles when aircraft are active, possibly
among the highest concentrations of any neighborhood in the Los Angeles
Boyle Heights, a less well-off neighborhood near downtown
LA, is similarly affected by roadway pollution. "It is nearly surrounded
by freeways and crisscrossed by major arterial roads," Paulson said.
"These streets carry a large number of high-emitting older vehicles, and
its neighborhoods are characterized by short blocks with abundant stop
signs, causing frequent emission spikes from accelerating of vehicles."
vehicle emissions are not the only source of ultrafine particles found
in these neighborhoods. "In Boyle Heights, and to a lesser degree
downtown, there are additional ultrafine particles that are not freshly
released from vehicles but instead form in sunlight-driven smog
processes and are ultimately the result of pollution blown in from
upwind areas to the west," Paulson said.
Although their findings
indicate that all kinds of neighborhoods may face dangerous levels of
air pollution, the researchers found that air quality is still an
environmental justice issue, with poorer neighborhoods more likely to
face greater pollution. "Despite substantial improvements in regional
air quality, cleaner air remains a highly desirable amenity in Southern
California," said Arthur Winer. West Los Angeles, the most affluent of
the four neighborhoods, still experienced the lowest concentrations of
ultrafine particulate matter. Furthermore, it experienced a significant
decrease in ultrafine particles in the last few years, which also can be
explained in terms of its wealth.
"The decrease in ultrafine
particles between 2008 and 2011 in the West Los Angeles area was
dramatic," Wonsik Choi said. "Affluent West Los Angeles experiences
rapid turnover of the vehicle fleet, resulting in a higher proportion of
newer vehicles with cleaner engines and better fuel efficiency."
property prices in neighborhoods with lower concentrations of noxious
particulate matter is one way that residents implicitly signal that they
value the quality of their air. Consequently, the lack of purchasing
power for the poor to live in neighborhoods with necessarily clean air
continues to be a concern of environmental justice.