Melba Lara: You’re listening to WBEZ. It’s time for our weekly climate conversation. The Guardian is out with a new analysis ranking the ten worst places to live in the U.S. for air pollution. And high up on that list? Chicago and Northwest Indiana. The analysis is based on data from 2011 to 2015, the newest available for the national model that was used. Here to tell us more about it is Erin McCormick, a data reporter with The Guardian U.S. Erin thanks for joining us.
Erin McCormick: Hi Melba. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Melba Lara: And Erin, how did you and your research partners calculate? What are the worst areas for air pollution?
Erin McCormick: We were inspired by a group of studies and an air pollution model done for the Center for Air Climate and Energy Solutions. And they were able to model, down to the neighborhood level, where the worst air pollution is. And using that model nationally, they saw that those neighborhoods with the worst air pollution also tended to be places where people of color live, and we were able to then kind of dive in and find some of those worst places and we wanted to go out and meet the people and find out what kind of challenges and, and problems they were facing.
Melba Lara: When you say air pollution, what exactly are you talking about?
Erin McCormick: The specific type of air pollution we looked at is fine particles. And these are so small that they can get into your lungs and get stuck there and they have been linked to a whole host of different health problems.
Melba Lara: The top two worst places for air pollution in your list, actually are in California. But coming in at number three, were Chicago's South and West Sides. And I'll add here that a couple of suburbs like, Oak Park and Park Ridge, are also seeing elevated levels of air pollution. But what's making areas on Chicago's South and West Sides such hot spots?
Erin McCormick: Well, these have been traditional industrial areas and even as some of the dirtier industries are cleaning up, new companies are moving in and new polluters are moving in. And they tend to go into those same neighborhoods that have traditionally had a lot of industry. Sometimes what you're getting is warehouse distribution centers moving in and bringing in truck traffic and then you've got, you know, as many cars as you ever had. So these neighborhoods continue to be taking the brunt of the air pollution.
Melba Lara: And fourth on your list right behind Chicago in parts of Northwest Indiana, which you call a giant industrial pollution hub. Tell us more about what's going on there.
Erin McCormick: Indiana has traditionally had a huge number of polluting industries located there in that Northwest corner and, and often along the lake. And at the same time, Indiana officials have been criticized for not cracking down enough to stop the pollution spewing out of factory smoke stacks.
Melba Lara: Erin, what can people do if they're concerned about their exposure to air pollution?
Erin McCormick: Well, it's hard to know what to do because people need to be able to walk in their neighborhoods. They need to be able to get to work. If there's a very high pollution day, experts recommend that you either stay inside or wear a mask when you're outside. But I think one of the most important things people can do is get to know the pollution in their area and start to fight for cleaner air.
Melba Lara: Erin McCormick is a data reporter with the Guardian U.S. If you want to look up your neighborhood's air pollution levels, there is an interactive map on the Guardian's website. Erin, thanks for talking with us.
Erin McCormick: Thank you so much Melba. I really appreciate it.
Melba Lara: This is WBEZ.
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