Mapping Social Vulnerability to Air Pollution in Philadelphia, PA

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Environmental stresses borne of population growth, consumerism and industrialization have subjected many populations worldwide to elevated air pollution. Philadelphia, a historically industrial city in Northeastern United States, is ranked in the top 25 cities in the country for harmful air pollutants (PM2.5, ozone). Philadelphia also experiences great financial stratification and environmental racism, which often unfairly asserts the pains of environmental pollution & associated health effects on socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. This study seeks to succinctly quantify which populations may be at risk for health effects associated with air pollution (specifically asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) through a suite of census-derived attributes. Using ArcMap Geographical Information System software (ESRI), attributes, categorized as promoting vulnerability or adaptability, are combined with air pollution data collected in summer 2019 to form a non-weighted ‘Social Vulnerability Index’ (SVI) at a census-tract level for Philadelphia. SVI demonstrated several clusters of neighborhoods with great disparities in socioeconomic factors. The census tracts with higher SVI tended to have higher levels of asthma and COPD (and vice versa). With improvements and acknowledgement of Philadelphia’s uniqueness, SVI of this kind may be used to inform policymakers on city planning (e.g. placement of future highways, industrial centers, etc.) to alleviate compounded respiratory/ pulmonary-related stresses on disadvantaged communities. Future analysis including green space coverage, other forms of air pollution, and/or a quantification of social connectivity may help to improve further understanding of the intersection between socioeconomic factors, air pollution, and health in Philadelphia, PA.

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