Tracking Air Pollution Disparities – Daily – From Space (Video)

CHICAGO, Aug. 22, 2022 — Studies have shown that pollution, whether from factories or traffic-choked roads, disproportionately affects communities where the economically disadvantaged and Hispanic, Black and Asian people live. As technology has improved, scientists have begun to document these disparities in detail, but information on day-to-day variations is lacking. Today, scientists report preliminary work calculating how exposure inequalities fluctuate from day to day in 11 major US cities. Moreover, they show that in some places, climate change could exacerbate these differences.

The researchers will present their findings at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS Fall 2022 is a hybrid meeting held virtually and in-person August 21-25, with on-demand access available August 26-September 26. 9. The meeting includes almost 11,000 presentations on a wide range of scientific topics.

Air pollution levels can vary widely over relatively short distances, falling within a few hundred meters of a highway, for example. Researchers including Sally Pusede, Ph.D., have used satellites and other observations to determine how air quality varies on a small geographic scale, at the neighborhood level.

But this approach neglects another crucial variable. “When we regulate air pollution, we don’t think it stays constant over time, we think of it as dynamic,” says Pusede, the project’s lead researcher. “Our new work takes a step forward by examining how these levels vary from day to day,” she says.

Information on these fluctuations can help identify sources of pollution. For example, in a study published last year, Pusede and his colleagues at the University of Virginia found that air quality disparities across major US cities narrowed on weekends. Their analysis linked this drop to the reduction in deliveries by diesel trucks. On weekends, more than half of these trucks are parked.

Pusede’s research focuses on NO2 gas, which is one component of the complex mixture of potentially harmful compounds produced by combustion. To get an idea of ​​air pollution levels, scientists often turn to NO2. But it’s not just an indicator: exposure to high concentrations of this gas can irritate the airways and worsen lung conditions. Long-term inhalation of high NO2 levels can also contribute to the development of asthma.

The team used NO2 data collected almost daily by a space-based instrument known as TROPOMI, which they confirmed with higher-resolution measurements taken from a similar sensor aboard an aircraft. piloted as part of NASA’s LISTOS project. They analyzed this data in small geographic regions, called census tracts, defined by the US Census Bureau. In a proof-of-concept project, they used this approach to analyze initial disparities in Houston, then applied these data collection methods to study day-to-day disparities between New York and Newark, New Jersey.

The Long Island Sound Ground-level Ozone Study (LISTOS) is a collaborative, multi-agency study focused on Long Island Sound and surrounding coastlines that continue to suffer from poor air quality exacerbated by earth/water circulation. The main measurement operations are planned between June and September 2018 and include, but are not limited to, in situ and integrated remote sensing instrumentation on board three aircraft, a network of ground sites, measurements from mobile vehicles and boats. Image courtesy of NASA.

Now they have analyzed satellite data from 11 additional cities, aside from New York and Newark, for daily variations. The cities are: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. Preliminary analysis found the highest average disparity in Los Angeles for Black communities, Hispanics and Asians in the lowest socioeconomic status (SES) brackets. They experienced on average 38% higher pollution levels than their higher SES non-Hispanic white counterparts in the same city – although the disparities on some days were much higher. Washington, DC, had the lowest disparity, with an average of 10% higher levels in black, Hispanic and Asian communities in low-income areas.

In those cities, like New York and Newark, the researchers also analyzed the data to see if they could identify any links to wind and heat – two factors that are expected to change as the world warms. Although the analysis is not yet complete, the team has so far found a direct link between stagnant air and the uneven distribution of pollution, which came as no surprise to the team as winds scatter Pollution. Given that air stagnation is projected to increase in the northeastern and southwestern United States in the coming years, this result suggests that the uneven distribution of air pollution may also be worsening in these regions. if emission reduction measures are not taken. The team found a less robust connection with heat, although a correlation did exist. Hot days are expected to increase across the country with climate change. So the researchers say that if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced quickly, people in these communities could face more days of conditions that are hazardous to their health due to the combined impacts of NO2. and heat.

Pusede hopes to see this type of analysis used to support communities struggling to improve air quality. “Because we can get daily data on pollutant levels, it is possible to assess the success of interventions, such as rerouting diesel trucks or adding emission controls on industrial facilities, to reduce them” , she says.

The researchers acknowledge support and funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation.

A recorded press conference on this topic will be released Monday, August 22 at 10:00 a.m. EST at

Courtesy of the ACS Press Room.

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