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Study uncovers stark health disparities in communities affected by historically restrictive housing loan practices — here's why it matters

The study's findings shed light on the lasting impacts of discriminatory practices.

The study's findings shed light on the lasting impacts of historical discriminatory practices.

Photo Credit: iStock

Denver neighborhoods hit hardest by old, unfair lending practices are now breathing the dirtiest air in the area, a new study shows. Discrimination from the past is still hurting these communities today, with pollution levels much higher than in other neighborhoods.

What's happening?

As reported by the American Chemical Society and posted by Phys.org, between the 1930s and late 1960s, discriminatory "redlining" practices were used to determine which neighborhoods would receive restricted mortgage and loan funding. Per the report summary, these practices often targeted Black or immigrant communities, leaving them at a disadvantage. 

Today, these same areas are facing increased levels of air pollution, potentially due to their proximity to highways or industrial parks.

Why is this air pollution concerning?

The study's findings shed light on the lasting impacts of discriminatory practices. Denver's redlined neighborhoods are experiencing 13% higher levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) compared to areas that received higher ratings. These pollutants can have detrimental effects on respiratory health, particularly for vulnerable communities.

Air pollution that contains fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 is particularly concerning. These tiny particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and even enter the bloodstream, leading to respiratory problems, heart disease, and higher risk of cancer.

Studies have compared the health risks of air pollution to those from smoking cigarettes, highlighting the severity of the issue. In fact, exposure to polluted air can have a more significant impact on life expectancy than alcohol use or drinking unsafe water, according to a report from the University of Chicago's Air Quality Life Index.

Recent research has uncovered even more alarming connections between air pollution and our health. Evidence suggests that air pollution can affect brain development in children, increase the risk of dementia, and even impact mental health, potentially leading to conditions such as postpartum depression. These findings underscore that air pollution is not just an environmental concern but a significant public health issue that affects us all in various ways.

What's being done about health inequity?

Researchers recommend remediation programs, such as clean technology incentives, to help improve air quality in these affected areas. By identifying the sources of pollution and targeting remediation efforts, cities like Denver can work towards reducing air pollution disparities and ensuring a healthier environment for all residents.

In addition to the challenges faced by Denver's historically redlined neighborhoods, similar disparities in air pollution affect many cities across the United States. This study underscores the need for targeted solutions to address environmental injustices and improve air quality for communities that have historically been marginalized.

Efforts to combat air pollution and promote environmental justice are crucial steps toward building more equitable and sustainable communities.

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