African American exposure to prescribed fire smoke in Georgia, USA
Our project examines the association between percent African American and smoke pollution in the form of prescribed burn-sourced, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the U.S. state of Georgia for 2018. (1) Background: African Americans constitute 32.4% of Georgia’s population, making it the largest racial/ethnic minority group in the state followed by Hispanic Americans at 9.8%. African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and lower wealth groups are more likely than most middle and upper income White Americans to be exposed to environmental pollutants. This is true because racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in urban areas where pollution is more concentrated. As a point of departure, we examine PM2.5 concentrations specific to prescribed fire smoke, which typically emanates from fires occurring in rural or peri-urban areas. Two objectives are specified: a) examine the association between percent African American and PM2.5 concentrations at the census tract level for Georgia, and b) identify emitters of PM2.5 concentrations that exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for the 24-h average, i. e., >35 μg/m3. (2) Methods: For the first objective, we estimate a spatial Durbin error model (SDEM) where pollution concentration (PM2.5) estimates for 1683 census tracts are regressed on percent of the human population that is African American or Hispanic; lives in mobile homes; and is employed in agriculture and related occupations. Also included as controls are percent evergreen forest, percent mixed evergreen/deciduous forest, and variables denoting lagged explanatory and error variables, respectively. For the second objective, we merge parcel and prescribed burn permit data to identify landowners who conduct prescribed fires that produce smoke exceeding the NAAQS. (3) Results: Percent African American and mobile home dweller are positively related to PM2.5 concentrations; and government and non-industrial private landowners are the greatest contributors to exceedance levels (4) Conclusions: Reasons for higher PM2.5 concentrations in areas with higher African American and mobile home percent are not clear, although we suspect that neither group is a primary contributor to prescribed burn smoke but rather tend to live proximate to entities, both public and private, that are. Also, non-industrial private landowners who generated prescribed burn smoke exceeding NAAQS are wealthier than others, which suggests that African American and other environmental justice populations are less likely to contribute to exceedance levels in the state.