REPORT: For Senior Populations, Black Americans Are Three Times More Likely to Die from Exposure to Particle Pollution Than White Americans

June 3, 2022
Lexi Ambrogi, 973-960-0073,

(Washington, D.C. – June 3, 2022) Black Americans 65 and older are three times more likely to die from exposure to fine particle air pollution than white Americans over 65, according to a new report released today by Environmental Defense Fund. The analysis finds that stronger air pollution limits would save thousands of lives each year and deliver significant health benefits, especially for Black, Hispanic and low-income communities. 

“Fine particle air pollution is responsible for more than 120,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and respiratory diseases, and those harms are not distributed equally,” said Ananya Roy, Senior Health Scientist for EDF. “This report underscores the importance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency strengthening our national protections against fine particle pollution. Stronger standards would have significant benefits for all of us, and especially for vulnerable populations who are being most harmed exposures to particle pollution.” 

Fine particle pollution is made up of tiny airborne particles like dust, soot and drops of liquids. The particles are so small that once inhaled, they penetrate deep into the lungs, causing serious health problems and even deaths. 

The new report uses census tract-level data to evaluate fine particle air pollution exposure and health impacts across the U.S. to identify population groups for whom risks may be particularly severe. The report finds significant disparities in air pollution exposure and associated health impacts, with Black and Hispanic communities and people experiencing poverty facing the highest pollution exposures and bearing the worst health impacts.  

EPA is reviewing the national air quality standards for fine particulate matter, currently set at 12 micrograms per cubic meter, and is expected to propose an updated standard this summer.  

“This report supports and builds on the important work EPA has undertaken to understand the disproportionate burden of particle pollution and underscores the urgent need for EPA to adopt stronger national health-based standards for particle pollution,” said EDF analyst Taylor Bacon. 

The report quantifies air pollution exposure disparities and the distribution of benefits from stronger standards and finds: 

  • People experiencing poverty are 49% more likely to live in areas that exceed the current national pollution threshold. 

  • In the U.S., people of color are six times more likely to visit the emergency room for air pollution-triggered childhood asthma than white people. 

  • The potential benefits of lower PM2.5 standards are sizable. In total, the report estimates a standard of ten micrograms per cubic meter would save approximately 4,600 lives, and a standard of eight micrograms per cubic meter would save 19,600 lives and substantially reduce disparities.   

The full report, prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for EDF, is available here

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