How pollution impacts health in West Oakland

Researchers from EDF and the University of Texas at Austin took our data to the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), a community-based organization with recognized leadership in local air pollution issues, to learn more about potential sources of poor air quality.

Explore: Interactive map and points of interest

Air quality data from Google/Aclima; analysis by Apte et al / EDF. Colors on the map do not correlate to colors on the Air Quality Index.

Pollution is not evenly distributed

We already know that West Oakland and Downtown Oakland communities are exposed to some of the highest levels of air pollution in the Bay Area. For instance, A 2008 California Air Resources Board (CARB) health risk assessment [PDF] found that West Oakland residents are exposed to air concentrations of diesel pollution that are almost three times higher than average background levels in the Bay Area, and that 71 percent of air pollution risk was attributable to truck traffic.These new maps reveal that air pollution also varies significantly within neighborhoods and even within individual city blocks.

Our maps show elevated pollution downwind of freeways, along busy roadways and truck routes as well as near industrial sources, confirming the community's experience. They also highlight areas of higher pollution that were previously unknown. We know these higher pollution levels have an impact on health.

Worse health in more polluted areas

West Oakland and Downtown Oakland communities are also known to experience high health burden. According to the Alameda County Public Health Department, residents of West Oakland and Downtown Oakland neighborhoods have higher rates of asthma emergency room visits as well as stroke and congestive heart failure [PDF] compared to the rest of the county. Meanwhile, residents of the Oakland Hills neighborhoods are expected to live up to seven years longer [PDF] than those from the flatland in West Oakland and downtown.

While many factors contribute to these health disparities, studies show that exposure to higher concentrations of air pollutants — like black carbon, NO and NO2 — are associated with greater risk of heart disease, stroke and asthma. Further, these pollutants are associated with poorer health at every stage of life, from pregnancy and development in the womb to heart attacks leading to death. For a recent study by EDF and Kaiser Permanente, researchers combined block-by-block pollution data with health electronic health records. Our results showed that differences in pollution between people who live on the same street or within a few blocks of each other can increase risks of heart attack and deaths from heart disease for the elderly.

Questions of environmental justice

The higher air pollution exposures of people living in West and Downtown Oakland raise questions of environmental justice. Census data shows that both of these neighborhoods have a high prevalence of poverty and a higher proportion of minority populations.

Lower-income communities often suffer a heavier health burden from pollution exposure due to higher in-home pollution exposures from lower housing quality, less ability to control their exposure through the placement of air filters in homes, and decreased access to clean work environments. Health problems like stress, diabetes and poor nutrition, which are also common among low-income populations, can exacerbate the effects of air pollution.

You can help: Make your voice heard!

Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and you can make a difference by advocating for common-sense solutions to reduce levels of harmful air pollution. 

  • If you live in Oakland, connect with local groups like the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), who can help you take action on issues that affect Oakland air quality.

  • If you live elsewhere, find a group working near you. For example, Moms Clean Air Force, a national group of more than a million parents, organizes communities to protect clean air and our kids' health in 20 states.