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More than 860,000 poor persons in metro Atlanta at risk from air pollution, says ALA report

David Pendered
diesel exhaust Particle pollution, the type in the exhaust of diesel motors, is a health risk for more than 860,000 residents of metro Atlanta who are in a state of poverty, according to a recent report by the American Lung Association. Credit: bbc.com

By David Pendered

Being in a state of poverty is a major risk factor for health issues caused by air pollution in metro Atlanta. For one type of pollution, more poor people are at risk from pollution than are the elderly, or those with diabetes or those with cardiovascular disease, according to a recent report from the American Lung Association.

diesel exhaust

Particle pollution, the type in the exhaust of diesel motors, is a health risk for more than 860,000 residents of metro Atlanta who are in a state of poverty, according to a recent report by the American Lung Association. Credit: bbc.com

Year round particle pollution is the type of air pollution that threatens the largest number of those in poverty, according to the ALA report, 2018 State of the Air. This type of pollution is a mixture of solid and liquid particles that are no larger than a tenth of a strand of human hair. Exhaust from diesel trucks is a particle pollutant.

The ALA report states that 864,419 individuals in metro Atlanta, who are in poverty, face a health risk from particle pollution.

Ozone, the other pollutant tracked in the report, also is a major threat to a large number of people in poverty. The number of folks in poverty trails only the elderly in terms of risk from ozone.

The report states that 572,742 individuals face a health risk from ozone pollution.

The ALA report is the latest in a growing series that cites poverty, or low household income, as a significant challenge to metro Atlanta. Other reports have highlighted the slim prospects for a child born to a low-income family to climb the economic ladders; and the shortage of fresh fruit, vegetables and other staples in food stores in impoverished neighborhoods; and the ability to afford a place to call home.

The report used the definition of poverty as provided by the Census. The Census puts the income thresholds at levels including:

  • Single, under 65 years: $12,752;
  • Single, over 65 years: $11,756;
  • Householder under 65 years with a related child under 18 years: $16,895.
  • Householder over 65 years with a related child under 18 years: $16,831.
health risks, air pollution

Air pollution in the form of ozone and particle pollution present 10 risk factors to human health, according the the American Lung Association. File/Credit: 2018 State of the Air

The Census estimated in a 2016 report that 13.1 percent of metro Atlanta residents are in poverty – 747,366, with a margin of error of 29,168. A third of those in poverty are youngsters under age 18 – 270,816, with a margin of error of 11,770. Seniors over age 65 account for 9 percent of the region’s residents in poverty – 58,258, with a margin of error of 3,615.

Atlanta accounts for about 100,000 of the metro residents who are in poverty, according to a Census report. Of the Atlanta group, 36 percent are children under age 18 and 16 percent are seniors aged 65 years and older.

This is the methodology the ALA used to determine the number of persons in poverty who are at risk from air pollution, according to the report:

  • “The U.S. Census Bureau estimated data on the total population of each county in the United States for 2016. The Census Bureau also estimated the age-specific breakdown of the population and the number of individuals living in poverty by county. These estimates are the best information on population demographics available between decennial censuses.
  • “Poverty estimates came from the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program. The program does not use direct counts or estimates from sample surveys, as these methods would not provide sufficient data for all counties. Instead, a model based on estimates of income or poverty from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) to the Current Population Survey (CPS) is used to develop estimates for all states and counties.”

The ALA report provides scant narrative on the correlation between poverty and risk from air pollution. Poverty is one of the categories the ALA provided in its population analysis of the number of individuals at risk.

The categories include age, under 18 years and over 65 years; asthma, pediatric and adult; COPD; lung cancer; and cardiovascular disease.

This is what the report says about poverty:

  • “Poverty – Nearly 18.3 million people [nationwide] with incomes meeting the federal poverty definition live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 1.3 million people in poverty live in counties failing all three tests. Evidence shows that people who have low incomes may face higher risk from air pollution.”

The ALA report shows a worsening in the levels of ozone and particle pollution in metro Atlanta compared to recent years.

Metro Atlanta ranks 23rd in the nation when it comes to high levels of ozone. Often called ground level ozone, it is created when pollutants such as tail-pipe exhaust mix and create chemical reactions that result in breathing difficulties for at-risk individuals.

Metro Atlanta ranks 22nd in the nation for year-round particle pollution. Particle pollution is a mixture of solid and liquid particles that are no larger than a tenth of a strand of human hair. Exhaust from diesel trucks is a particle pollutant.

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Shirley May 1, 2018 2:50 pm

    The poor quality of the air and its pollution rob families of their loved ones. We can change this dangerous condition with better emissions laws and enforcement and improved transportation solutions as a start.Report

    Reply

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