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Satellite data reveals that diesel trucks are a major source of air pollution in the United States

A review of nearly two years of satellite information from crucial US cities reveals large disparities in nitrogen dioxide exposure from location to location. According to the study, those with incomes at or even below poverty line and the members of marginalized ethnic and racial groups are exposed to around 28 percent higher NO2 concentrations than better-income White people who are residing in the same city. This imbalance is linked to heavy-duty diesel trucks.

The respiratory system is irritated by nitrogen dioxide. It also produces ozone and particulate debris, both of which are harmful to human health. Sally Pusede, an atmospheric chemist at University of Virginia, and Mary Angelique Demetillo, a Ph.D. student, used data from the NASA flight program last year to evaluate the utilization of satellite readings to analyze fluctuations in NO2 levels within a city. They showed how daily NO2 readings from the TROPOMI satellite might be utilized to reveal air pollution disparities in Houston census tracts.

Pusede and Demetillo’s new analysis includes 52 major US cities with a combined population of 130 million people. They found inequality in each city, although NO2 inequality was higher in cities with poor air quality. People in Phoenix who are poor and belong to marginalized racial and ethnic groups have NO2 levels 46 percent higher than the White people with earnings over the poverty line. In Los Angeles and Newark, New Jersey, the figures are similar.

Pusede notes that when it comes to the cause of the pollution, “we discover that the diesel trucking is the main driver of NO2 disparity” in all of the cities studied. Pusede and her colleagues investigated the impact of NO2 emissions from heavy-duty diesel traffic by contrasting NO2 emissions on weekdays versus weekends when the majority of heavy-duty diesel trucks are not on the road. A 62 percent drop in diesel traffic during weekends lowered marginalized groups’ exposure to NO2 to the point where inequality fell by 37 percent throughout the cities studied.

According to Pusede and Demetillo, the rest of the disparity is caused by gasoline automobiles, construction machinery, and stationary sources like power plants. According to Gaige Kerr, who is a postdoctoral researcher at the George Washington University, this study adds to an increasing body of knowledge about the causes of NO2 inequity. NO2 exposure disparities continued during the COVID-19 lockdowns, according to his new research. Kerr believes it is time to reconsider how goods are transported throughout the nation by reconfiguring diesel traffic and electrifying heavy-duty trucking industry.