A new study published in Nature Communications outlines the differences in urban heat stress among different sociodemographic groups and found that in almost all urban areas, non-white people were more exposed to extreme urban heat.

Researchers used government temperature and census data to find the distribution of heat islands. These “heat islands,” are areas of a city with higher than average temperatures than the surrounding areas. Their research found that people of color are exposed to more extreme heat than white people.

All but six of the United States’ 175 largest urban areas had these disparities.

Glenn Sheriff, a co-author of the study and environmental economics professor at Arizona State University told the Associated Press, “I expected to see that people of color had a higher exposure to this heat island effect in maybe a majority of cities. But what we found was that something like 97% of the cities had these disparities.”

People living in or close to heat islands experience warmer days, less nighttime cooling, and higher air pollution than surrounding areas. Environmental Protection Agency reports that these conditions can exacerbate heat-related deaths and illnesses, including stroke, exhaustion, and respiratory difficulty.

Sacoby Wilson, an environmental health professor at the University of Maryland who was not part of the research team said that racism is the underlying cause of these disparities, where racism can lead to including discriminatory housing policies and zoning laws, which then affect where people live.

For more, read our coverage of the fight for racial justice across the country and why racism and the killings of Black Americans is a public health crisis.

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