Traffic, air pollution, minority and socio-economic status: addressing inequities in exposure and risk

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 May 19;12(5):5355-72. doi: 10.3390/ijerph120505355.


Higher levels of nearby traffic increase exposure to air pollution and adversely affect health outcomes. Populations with lower socio-economic status (SES) are particularly vulnerable to stressors like air pollution. We investigated cumulative exposures and risks from traffic and from MNRiskS-modeled air pollution in multiple source categories across demographic groups. Exposures and risks, especially from on-road sources, were higher than the mean for minorities and low SES populations and lower than the mean for white and high SES populations. Owning multiple vehicles and driving alone were linked to lower household exposures and risks. Those not owning a vehicle and walking or using transit had higher household exposures and risks. These results confirm for our study location that populations on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum and minorities are disproportionately exposed to traffic and air pollution and at higher risk for adverse health outcomes. A major source of disparities appears to be the transportation infrastructure. Those outside the urban core had lower risks but drove more, while those living nearer the urban core tended to drive less but had higher exposures and risks from on-road sources. We suggest policy considerations for addressing these inequities.

Keywords: air pollution risk; environmental justice; socio-economic status; traffic.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects
  • Air Pollution / analysis
  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Health
  • Ethnic Groups*
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minnesota
  • Minority Groups*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Class*
  • Vehicle Emissions / analysis*
  • Vehicle Emissions / toxicity
  • Young Adult


  • Air Pollutants
  • Vehicle Emissions