Report reveals Chinatown’s dangerous air pollution
Residents in Boston’s Chinatown have the highest rates of exposure to vehicular air pollution in Massachusetts, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an American scientific advocacy group.
Researchers estimated the amount of PM2.5 , a highly dangerous fine particle emitted from cars, trucks and buses in census tracts statewide. The report finds that, in Massachusetts, communities of color face greater exposure to PM2.5 than white communities. Asian American residents have a 26% higher rate of exposure to PM2.5 than the state average. African American and Latino residents have exposures of 24% and 17% higher than the state average, respectively. White residents have a rate of exposure 7% lower than the state average.
As the cause of 63% of all environmentally related deaths in the United States, PM2.5 is one of the greatest environmental threats. The particles, which commonly originate from any action involving the burning of fuel or any other material, are extremely small, with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers. The tiny size of the particles enables them to easily enter into a person’s lungs or bloodstream.
Studies have linked both short-term and long-term exposure to PM2.5 to lung cancer and the development of asthma.
On Thursday, June 27, the UCS, in conjunction with local leaders, hosted a press conference in Boston to discuss the findings of their air pollution report. At the press conference, Ken Kimmell, the president of the UCS, further discussed the causes of the air pollution crisis.
Highlighting that the burning of fuel produces PM2.5, Kimmell connected the presence of highways to the high levels of PM2.5 in Chinatown. Located next to the Mass Pike and I-93, Chinatown faces constant exposure to vehicle emissions and therefore by extension, PM2.5.
“The people who face the greatest exposure,” remarked Kimmell at the conference, “are those who live near highways, along major freight corners, and urban areas.”
Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn, who represents Chinatown, also emphasized the impact of Chinatown’s proximity to major highways. Flynn commented “I’m not surprised by the findings. I hear about this every day from the people of Chinatown.”
During the conference, Kimmell urged the city to do four things: encourage the production and use of electric vehicles; promote the use of clean fuels; make efforts to reduce driving; and improve the quality as well as the efficiency of the public transportation system.
“The communities that in many ways have the least access to our transportation system are the very same communities that are experiencing the highest burdens from our transportation system,” Kimmell said. “Any of the revenues that we develop to address this need to be targeted at this current air pollution inequity.”
At-large City Councilor Michelle Wu spoke at the press conference about the health-related impacts of air pollution in Chinatown.
“We need to act with urgency,” said Wu, “to undo these harms and provide a different pathway forward.”
Lee Matsueda, the political director at Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), stressed the role of communities themselves in the solution-building process.
“We have to let affected communities decide what solutions we implement and where we put our limited resources,” said Matsueda. “They have a right to be involved and should be the primary stakeholders of concern.”
Christopher Cook, Boston’s chief of environment, energy, and open space, highlighted the city’s commitment to updating the Climate Action Plan, its outline for reducing greenhouse gases, and advancing Boston’s Community Choice Energy program, a city-wide program to manage the energy of all residents.
“Climate change is a public health issue and it disproportionately affects people of color and people who are socially vulnerable,” Cook said. “That’s why we need to take action now.”