Death’s Dirty Hands

Smog’s spectre looms,
choking the throats
of the innocent –
charcoal fingers clutching
at fragile hearts.
The fumes of progress
do not discriminate,
and yet
they weigh heavier
on some.
Gasping for breath,
the afflicted cry out –
their wheezing laments
suffocated in the haze.
Poisonous clouds
begin to shift,
their ashen grasp
slowly released.
Yet many remain,
in a tainted embrace –
how long
must they wait.

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that air pollution has decreased across the US, but health burdens remain unequal among racial groups.

Air pollution is a major health concern worldwide. One dangerous type of air pollution is fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. These tiny particles can get deep into the lungs and cause heart and breathing problems. Research shows PM2.5 pollution has gone down in the US recently. But it’s unclear if this improvement has benefited all racial and ethnic groups equally.

In this new study, researchers looked at how lower PM2.5 pollution affected risk of death from cardiovascular disease in different US racial/ethnic groups. It analysed data across over 3,000 US counties from 2001-2016. The results show PM2.5 pollution is linked to a much higher risk of cardiovascular death for Black people compared to White people. There was no significant difference found between Hispanic and White people. Even though the gap in risk between Black and White people has reduced over the 15 years studied, in 2016 the death rate from PM2.5 was still over 3 times higher for Black people compared to White people. This research shows how racial minorities remain disproportionately vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution, whilst also highlighting how action is needed to reduce both PM2.5 exposure and vulnerability in minority communities.

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