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Sustainability News

June 23, 2021

People of color are far more likely to live in extreme urban heat zones. This is according to a study co-authored by sustainability scientist Glenn Sheriff. The piece, Disproportionate exposure to urban heat island intensity across major US cities, was published in Nature Communications.

The Associated Press interviewed Sheriff for its article, People of color more exposed to heat islands, study finds. Through republication on ABC News and US News and World Report, the article featuring Sheriff saw readership of over 31 million. The work was also covered by CNN and the Washington Post, as well as local NBC affiliate 12 News. Visit altmetric.com for additional metrics.

The paper’s abstract follows.

Urban heat stress poses a major risk to public health. Case studies of individual cities suggest that heat exposure, like other environmental stressors, may be unequally distributed across income groups. There is little evidence, however, as to whether such disparities are pervasive. We combine surface urban heat island (SUHI) data, a proxy for isolating the urban contribution to additional heat exposure in built environments, with census tract-level demographic data to answer these questions for summer days, when heat exposure is likely to be at a maximum. We find that the average person of color lives in a census tract with higher SUHI intensity than non-Hispanic whites in all but 6 of the 175 largest urbanized areas in the continental United States. A similar pattern emerges for people living in households below the poverty line relative to those at more than two times the poverty line.