Inequity in consumption of goods and services adds to racial-ethnic disparities in air pollution exposure

Christopher M Tessum, Joshua S. Apte, Andrew L Goodkind, Nicholas Z. Muller, Kimberley Mullins, David A. Paolella, Stephen Polasky, Nathaniel P. Springer, Sumil Thakrar, Julian Marshall, Jason D. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

307 Scopus citations


Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution exposure is the largest environmental health risk factor in the United States. Here, we link PM2.5 exposure to the human activities responsible for PM2.5 pollution. We use these results to explore "pollution inequity": The difference between the environmental health damage caused by a racial- ethnic group and the damage that group experiences. We show that, in the United States, PM2.5 exposure is disproportionately caused by consumption of goods and services mainly by the non-Hispanic white majority, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic minorities. On average, non-Hispanic whites experience a "pollution advantage": They experience ∼17% less air pollution exposure than is caused by their consumption. Blacks and Hispanics on average bear a "pollution burden" of 56% and 63% excess exposure, respectively, relative to the exposure caused by their consumption. The total disparity is caused as much by how much people consume as by how much pollution they breathe. Differences in the types of goods and services consumed by each group are less important. PM2.5 exposures declined ∼50% during 2002-2015 for all three racial-ethnic groups, but pollution inequity has remained high.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6001-6006
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. We acknowledge the assistance of Katherine Boyum-Hill, Madeleine Bray, Rick T. Burnett, W. Michael Griffin, Chris Hendrickson, Makoto Kelp, H. Scott Matthews, Marc Robins, Mei W. Tessum, and Reuben Verdoljak, and the editorial assistance of Kristin Harper. This work was supported by University of Minnesota Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment Grant Rl-0026-09; US Department of Energy Award EE0004397; US Department of Agriculture Award MN-12-083 and National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grant 2013-67009-20377; and Assistance Agreement RD83587301 awarded by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the Center for Air, Climate, and Energy Solutions (CACES). This article has not been formally reviewed by EPA or other funders. The views expressed in this document are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Agency. EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 National Academy of Sciences. All Rights Reserved.


  • Air quality
  • Environmental justice
  • Fine particulate matter
  • Input- output
  • Life cycle assessment


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