Disparities in PM2.5 air pollution in the United States

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. Here, we provide early evidence. We combine 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. We 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.