California’s COVID-19 economic shutdown reveals the fingerprint of systemic environmental racism

Published:

Recommended citation: Bluhm, R., Polonik, P., Hemes, K., Sanford, L., Benz, S., Levy, M. C., … Burney, J. (2020, December 16). California’s COVID-19 economic shutdown reveals the fingerprint of systemic environmental racism. https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/e86mh

Abstract: Racial and ethnic minorities in the United States often experience higher-than-average exposures to air pollution. However, the relative contribution of embedded institutionalbiases to these disparities can be dicult to disentangle from physical environmental drivers,socioeconomic status, and cultural or other factors that are correlated with exposures understatus quo conditions. Over the spring and summer of 2020, rapid and sweeping COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders around the world created large perturbations to local and regionaleconomic activity that resulted in observable changes in air pollution concentrations,compositions, and distributions. Here, we use the pandemic-related emergency order andsubsequent economic slowdown, together with a di↵erences-in-di↵erences approach, to causallyestimate pollution exposure disparities in California. Using both public ground-based sensor dataand a citizen-science network of monitors for respirable particulate matter (PM2.5), along withsatellite records of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), we show that the initial sheltering-in-place periodproduced disproportionate air pollution reduction benefits for Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, and low-income communities. By linking these pollution data with weather, geographic, socioeconomic,and mobility data in di↵erence-in-di↵erences models, we demonstrate that these disparatepollution reductions cannot be explained by environmental conditions, geography, income, orlocal economic activity and are instead driven by non-local activity. This study thus providescausally-identified evidence of systemic racial and ethnic bias in pollution control under business-as-usual conditions. [View paper here](10.31219/osf.io/e86mh)