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West Side of Chicago hit hardest by pollution from engine exhaust

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CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Northwestern University study has found that the western edge of Chicago is a hot spot for pollution.

Using information from sensors, satellites, and a simulation, researchers found the westernmost part of the city — including the North and South Lawndale, East Garfield Park, Archer Heights and Brighton Park neighborhoods — had concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) that were up to 32% higher than in the rest of the city. 

Nitrogen dioxide is in engine exhaust, and is very harmful to human health. According to the study, chronic exposure to nitrogen oxide fumes can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and premature death. When it interacts with sunlight, it also can produce ground-level ozone, which is linked to childhood asthma and other breathing problems.

"The three tools that we explored sometimes identified different areas of elevated pollution from one another," said Northwestern's Anastasia Montgomery, who led the study. "That doesn't necessarily mean the tools are not working. It could be that they are looking at different things. However, in areas where we found agreement between the datasets, we have greater confidence that NO2 pollution is significantly high. The three different tools we used all pointed to the West Side as an area where pollution is significantly elevated relative to the Chicago average."

The study noted that the West Side also has more Black and Latino residents compared to the rest of the city, highlighting disparities in pollution and health burdens for minority communities.

The study was published Thursday in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters.

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