Unequal airborne exposure to toxic metals associated with race, ethnicity, and segregation in the USA

Nat Commun. 2022 Nov 1;13(1):6329. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-33372-z.


Persons of color have been exposed to a disproportionate burden of air pollution across the United States for decades. Yet, the inequality in exposure to known toxic elements of air pollution is unclear. Here, we find that populations living in racially segregated communities are exposed to a form of fine particulate matter with over three times higher mass proportions of known toxic and carcinogenic metals. While concentrations of total fine particulate matter are two times higher in racially segregated communities, concentrations of metals from anthropogenic sources are nearly ten times higher. Populations living in racially segregated communities have been disproportionately exposed to these environmental stressors throughout the past decade. We find evidence, however, that these disproportionate exposures may be abated though targeted regulatory action. For example, recent regulations on marine fuel oil not only reduced vanadium concentrations in coastal cities, but also sharply lessened differences in vanadium exposure by segregation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Air Pollution* / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • United States
  • Vanadium


  • Air Pollutants
  • Vanadium
  • Particulate Matter