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Chinatown has worst air quality in Massachusetts, report says

Winnie Chen (left) listened as Kenneth L. Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, spoke Thursday in Chinatown. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Chinatown has the worst air quality in Massachusetts, according to a report from a science advocacy group that also said Asian-American residents are exposed to 36 percent more harmful pollution particles than white residents in the state.

Outside Josiah Quincy Upper School in Chinatown on Thursday, representatives from the Union of Concerned Scientists, lawmakers, and activists highlighted Chinatown’s disproportionately high level of air pollution.

“In fact, right here where we’re standing, our modeling indicates it is . . . the most exposed transportation pollution site in all of the Commonwealth,” said Kenneth Kimmel, the union’s president.

The findings stem from a report released Thursday, “Inequitable Exposure to Air Pollution from Vehicles in Massachusetts,” which showed that air pollution disproportionately affects Asian-American, African-American, and Latino residents due to where city leaders have “chosen to locate housing, land use decisions, investments, and public transit,” said Kimmel.


In Massachusetts, Chinatown, according to the report, has high exposure to pollution particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Inhaling these particles has been found to produce harmful effects including asthma and heart disease.

Overall in the state, the study also noted that African-American and Latino residents have a 34 percent higher exposure rate and 26 percent higher exposure rate than white residents, respectively.

Richard Chang, interim academic superintendent of Boston Public Schools and former headmaster of Josiah Quincy Upper School, said the findings highlight how “dangerous” air pollution can be — even on a seemingly clear day.

“I mean, today you got the blue sky and the sun, and it feels like it should be perfectly fine to play out here,” Chang said. “What’s unseen are these very dangerous particles emitted by cars, the diesel train, and then the passing highway vehicles. And the kids are just inhaling it in.”

The report also notes that air pollution in Massachusetts is concentrated in downtown Boston and “gateway cities” such as Fall River, Lawrence, New Bedford, and Lowell.


The report is part of a larger study from the science group that looked at the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, where, overall, Asian-American, African-American, and Latino residents in the state breathe in 66 percent more air pollution than white residents.

Some of the potential solutions presented Thursday included investing in more electric vehicles and making public transportation “the number one priority.”

“We’ve shown that if we replace our bus fleet with electric buses, and if we have a grid that runs on renewable energy, we can cut this pollution by about 90 percent,” Kimmel said. “That is a huge gain.”

Katie Gronendyke, a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a statement that the Baker-Polito administration “looks forward to reviewing the report” and will “continue to take proactive steps” to protect residents.

Aidan Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @AidanRyanNH.