Industrialized areas could benefit from better air pollution policies to avoid inequalities.

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study of an air quality management strategy for Detroit found that a localized approach would result in significantly improved health benefits for those most at risk.

The case study addresses EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s initiative on environmental justice, which focuses on ensuring that low income and minority groups are not disproportionately affected by pollution.

The study demonstrated that the approach approximately doubled the human health benefits achieved by the traditional approach, according to EPA lead author Neal Fann, an environmental protection specialist at the Agency.

A new approach would be particularly useful in urban areas, where vulnerable and susceptible populations are clustered geographically and where air quality varies substantially because of the effects of local traffic and other pollution sources.

The analysis, entitled “Maximizing Health Benefits and Minimizing Inequality: Incorporating Local Scale Data in the Design and Evaluation of Air Quality Policies,” appeared in the June issue of the journal Risk Analysis, published by the Society for Risk Analysis.

New approach targets multiple exposures at once

Conventional approaches to air pollution management focus on compliance of single pollutants at designated monitoring stations, while the new approach would focus on reducing multiple exposures in highly populated areas as well.

The authors construct population profiles to identify vulnerable and susceptible groups, identified by current health status (mortality and asthma rates) and exposure to air pollution (particulate matter), as well as by poverty and educational attainment.

They found that this more targeted approach reduces inequalities. The study “succeeded in generating substantial human health benefits – particularly among vulnerable and susceptible populations – while also lowering the overall level of air pollution risk inequality,” according to the authors.

The article suggests that flexible, localized air quality management strategies hold significant potential for improving the health of residents and resulting in fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

Source: Society for Risk Analysis (SRA)

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