How Your ZIP Code Determines Your Lung Health

How Your ZIP Code Determines Your Lung Health

​​50 years ago, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, which required that cities track their air quality levels with a monitor that scans for pollutants. But Darren Riley, the CEO and co-founder of JustAir Solutions, wondered if this was enough.

He installed eleven sensors across his hometown of Grands Rapids, and found that there were vast differences in air quality levels across neighborhoods that couldn't be captured with just one monitor. The air quality was worst in Roosevelt Park, he found, the neighborhood with the highest non-white population.

Why This Matters

Air pollution's disproportionate burden on low-income communities of color is yet another example of environmental racism, a result of compounding historical inequality and discriminatory practices like redlining.

A study from earlier this year found that Black Americans are exposed to more pollution from every source, including industry, agriculture, all manner of vehicles, construction, residential sources and even emissions from restaurants. People of color are exposed to more pollution from nearly every source than white Americans.

This can have deadly consequences. Air pollution is the world's fourth leading cause of disease and death, and it's estimated that 100,000-200,000 people in the US die every year to diseases caused by air pollution.

Now This: How Air Pollution Exposes America's Racial Disparities, July 25, 2020.

The Future Of JustAir

Riley hopes to expand JustAir to place sensors in Detroit and Chicago, providing data that could push governments to take action.

Air pollution is a public health crisis that can only be fought by reallocating resources to underserved communities and cleaning up sources of pollution.

Ronda Chapman, equity director at The Trust for Public Land told ABC News: "This is a non-partisan concern when we're talking about the health and well-being of individuals. And so when we have the data to back it up, that's how we're able to better make the case for investing in green infrastructure, investing in neighborhoods and investing in communities."

American Lung Association: Climate and Your Health, April 5, 2021.

Reuters: 'Terminate pollution' Schwarzenegger tells climate summit, July 1, 2021.