The MPCA strives to ensure pollution does not have a disproportionate impact on any group of people. This principle is often referred to as environmental justice. Environmental justice has many layers. Studies show that lower-income communities and communities of color are often both exposed to higher levels of air pollution and more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of those exposures. In addition to experiencing higher levels of pollution, some communities do not have adequate access to the conditions that support healthy living, including quality schooling, healthcare, and safe neighborhoods. People of color, indigenous people, and people with low incomes often face social, economic, and health inequities that contribute to increased rates of health conditions that can be affected by air pollution. These inequities mean that communities of color, indigenous communities, and lower-income communities tend to be more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.
Understanding disproportionate impacts
When developing and implementing regulations and assistance programs, it is important for regulatory agencies like the MPCA to consider these two questions:
- Are pollution levels decreasing everywhere and for everyone equally?
- Are pollution levels higher for one population than for others?
A disproportionate-impact analysis seeks to answer these types of questions.
The MPCA is working to better address the relationships between pollution, social conditions, and health outcomes. A first step for this work was to identify communities of potential concern for environmental justice. To do so, the MPCA identified areas of the state where high numbers of people of color or lower income live and also indigenous communities. Explore the Understanding environmental justice in Minnesota map to identify communities of concern around Minnesota.
A next step is to understand the differences in environmental conditions and exposures in different communities around the state. Many studies have demonstrated that people of color and low income communities may have higher exposures to outdoor air pollutants, may live in proximity to higher densities of pollution sources, and may be more vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution. Recent publications show disproportionate impacts are more significant in cities with greater racial and economic segregation, a metric that the Twin Cities score poorly on.
The MPCA models all air pollution sources in the state of Minnesota and can compare impacts in potential areas of concern for environmental justice to the rest of the state. In Minnesota, for instance, 32% of all communities have air pollution-related risks above health guidelines. However, the percentages of communities of color and lower income communities that experience risks above health guidelines are far higher. Within low-income communities, the number is 46%. Within communities of color, it’s 91%. In other words, lower income communities, and especially communities of color in Minnesota, are potentially exposed to higher air pollution levels than the state average.
Seventy-six out of about 2,000 facilities in Minnesota have modeled risks above guidelines (see footnote). Only about 6% of communities in Minnesota are near one or more of these facilities. However, 14% of communities of color, which include indigenous peoples, and 9% of low-income communities are located near one or more of these facilities.
The following chart reports disproportionate impacts among a variety of demographic groups from different sources of air pollution in the Twin Cities. The chart indicates communities with higher percentages of lower income people, people of color, and indigenous peoples have higher levels of air pollution from all source types. Places with higher percentages of expensive homes and white people have lower potential air pollution across all source types.
Air pollution risks are unequal
Explore disproportionate impacts
The indices above were estimated using the MPCA MNRISKS modeling tool. More details about this tool and other online tools can be found on the Air modeling and human health webpage. The MNRISKS tool results can be used by communities or individuals to investigate potential EJ issues, prioritize sources, or prioritize specific air pollutants.
The power plants and environmental justice data tool allows a comparison of emissions from power plants in areas of concern for environmental justice to the rest of the state. These areas include tribal lands and census tracts with higher levels of poverty and communities of color. The map and charts show the locations of these power plants, and their estimated emissions from 2006, 2015, and 2030.
Notes on MNRISKS
The data used in the graphics on this page are from a cumulative air pollution model called MNRISKS. The model uses risk assessment methods to examine hypothetical individuals that spend their lifetime in one community, breathing only that air. Modeled emissions include all air pollution sources in the state of Minnesota including vehicles, factories, construction equipment, building boilers, and residential wood burning.
“Risk guideline” reflects a level of air pollution exposure at or below which health effects would be unlikely. These guidelines were developed in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health. A result above a risk guideline indicates a need for further investigation and prioritization of that source and pollutant.
- On disproportionate exposures: Clark et al. 2014, Pratt et al. 2015
- On disproportionate densities of pollutant sources: Brender, et al. 2011
- On disproportionate vulnerabilities: Center for Health Equity (MDH); Life and breath - How air pollution affects public health in the Twin Cities (aq1-61)
- Recent publications show disproportionate impacts are more significant in cities with greater racial and economic segregation: Morello-Frosch and Lopez, 2006, Morello-Frosch and Jesdale, 2006