The New Deal created several government programs to expand homeownership through mortgages and loans. However, neighborhoods with predominantly black or immigrant communities were often deemed “at risk” for repayment due to discriminatory “redlining” practices that restricted lending. Today, these same areas experience more air pollution than other neighborhoods, and according to a study published in the ACS Environmental Science and TechnologyThe cause could be nearby highways or industrial parks.

Between the 1930s and the late 1960s, groups such as the Federal Housing Administration and the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) worked to secure loans but were selective about which neighborhoods should receive this financing. The areas were rated from “A” (least risky) to “D,” which was considered the most risky and was color coded red. These ringed neighborhoods were often home to black or immigrant communities whose residents were routinely denied mortgages or loans because of the cards. During the same period, highways were laid through many of these communities, either isolating them or demolishing them entirely. Researchers recently showed this Historically limited areas have higher levels of air pollution than those who received higher ratings, and Similar inequalities affect many cities in the United States Denver is one such city where Joost de Gouw and colleagues wanted to investigate the origins of pollution differences.

The team collected satellite and computer model data on nitrogen dioxide (NO).2) and fine dust in the air (PM2.5), both of which can be dangerous if inhaled. By combining demographic data from the 2020 Census and historical maps from HOLC, researchers found that “D”-rated neighborhoods had 13% higher NO levels2 than the areas marked “A”. Across Denver, neighborhoods where the majority of residents identified as non-Hispanic white and Asian or Asian American residents had lower exposure to NO2 and PM2.5 as areas with groups that identify primarily as American Indians and Alaska Natives and Hispanic or Latino.

The researchers also examined the possible sources of the NO2 and PM2.5 Emissions affecting the previously marked areas. They found that diesel-powered vehicles emitted about half the nitrogen oxides of road vehicles, while additional pollutants such as benzene came from other point sources, including nearby petrochemical refineries. Many major highways and industrial areas in Denver, including Commerce City, are surrounded by diverse communities that typically have fewer people who identify as non-Hispanic white, even though that group makes up the majority of the city’s population. The researchers say this work helps identify areas that could be most improved by recovery programs such as clean technology incentives.

The authors report no source of funding for this study.

The paper abstract will be available on February 21 at 8 a.m. Eastern Time here:

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