Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Breathing Inequality Air Pollution Widens Gap between 'The Two Pittsburghs'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Breathing Inequality Air Pollution Widens Gap between 'The Two Pittsburghs'

Article excerpt

For the first time in more than 15 years, the Pittsburgh region's air quality grew worse, according to the American Lung Association's "State of the Air" report issued recently. The report comes on the heels of a warning by the Environmental Protection Agency instructing Pennsylvania, and Allegheny County in particular, to reduce particulate matter air pollution.

It is well known that air pollution has a panoply of adverse effects on society. What might surprise the casual observer is that air pollution actually contributes to the widening gap between Pittsburgh's haves and have-nots.

The U.S. Census Bureau commonly reports income inequality through statistics like the Gini coefficient. This measure indicates that inequality has been increasing over the past decade. To get a more complete picture of the distribution of economic resources, our research deducts the monetary damages from air pollution exposure from household income and explores the distribution of this adjusted measure of income.

Our research examines about 2 million households across the United States included in the American Community Survey (ACS) -a product of the Census Bureau. To calculate the monetary value of air pollution impacts, we rely on relationships between exposure and health outcomes from the public health literature, valuation techniques from economics, and pollution data from the Environmental Protection Agency. We then subtract these damages from income reported in the ACS.

We find that this adjusted measure of income is much more unequally distributed across households than is market income. The degree to which these impacts are concentrated on lower income groups is startling.

Air pollution functions as a bracingly regressive tax. The symmetry of the impact paints a picture of stark contrast. When pollution impact is factored in, the bottom 20 percent of households lose roughly 10 percent of their share of national income, while the top 20 percent of households gain 10 percent. …

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