Skip to content Skip to navigation

Environmental Justice and Sustainability Seminar

Disparities in PM2.5 Air Pollution in the United States
Friday, November 13, 2020 - 12:00pm

The second meeting of the Environmental Justice and Sustainability Seminar: 

Jonathan Colmer, Department of Economics, University of Virginia

Abstract:Air pollution at any given time is unequally distributed across locations. Average concentrations of fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) have fallen over time. However, we do not know how the spatial distribution of PM2.5 has evolved. In a recent study published in Science, Professor Colmer and co-authors, provide early evidence. Combining 36 years of PM2.5 concentrations measured over ~8.6 million grid cells with geographic, economic, and demographic data from ~65,000 U.S. census tracts they show that differences in PM2.5 between more and less polluted areas declined substantially between 1981 and 2016. However, the most polluted census tracts in 1981 remained the most polluted in 2016. The least polluted census tracts in 1981 remained the least polluted in 2016. The most exposed subpopulations in 1981 remained the most exposed in 2016. Overall, absolute disparities have fallen, but relative disparities persist. Professor Colmer will discuss this research alongside other work that the Environmental Inequality Lab has been doing exploring the consequences of air pollution disparities on economic opportunity and social mobility. 

Bio:Jonathan Colmer is Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia's Department of Economics and Director of the Environmental Inequality Lab. His research combines data with insights from economic theory and environmental science to understand how society and the environment influence one another.

Contact Email: