Air pollution contributes to the global burden of disease, with ambient exposure to fine particulate matter of diameters smaller than 2.5 μm (PM2.5) being identified as the fifth-ranking risk factor for mortality globally1. Racial/ethnic minorities and lower-income groups in the USA are at a higher risk of death from exposure to PM2.5 than are other population/income groups2-5. Moreover, disparities in exposure to air pollution among population and income groups are known to exist6-17. Here we develop a data platform that links demographic data (from the US Census Bureau and American Community Survey) and PM2.5 data18 across the USA. We analyse the data at the tabulation area level of US zip codes (N is approximately 32,000) between 2000 and 2016. We show that areas with higher-than-average white and Native American populations have been consistently exposed to average PM2.5 levels that are lower than areas with higher-than-average Black, Asian and Hispanic or Latino populations. Moreover, areas with low-income populations have been consistently exposed to higher average PM2.5 levels than areas with high-income groups for the years 2004-2016. Furthermore, disparities in exposure relative to safety standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency19 and the World Health Organization20 have been increasing over time. Our findings suggest that more-targeted PM2.5 reductions are necessary to provide all people with a similar degree of protection from environmental hazards. Our study is observational and cannot provide insight into the drivers of the identified disparities.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.