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May 12, 2020
Contact: Tom Lalley

Environmental Injustice Linked to Higher Rates of COVID-19 in Massachusetts

Communities of color, hit “first and worst” by climate impacts, are also suffering the state’s highest rates of COVID-19 — driven by income inequality, inadequate access to healthcare and disproportionate exposure to pollution.

Washington, D.C. — A new issue brief from the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey details how COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting communities of color in the state, a pattern that is “the predictable end point of decades of policy choices that incentivize economic, housing, and environmental injustice.” These communities also experience higher-than-average rates of asthma-related hospitalizations, particularly among children, and are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The brief is based in part on a new analysis conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health using data compiled by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, which found that communities of color are experiencing the highest rates of COVID-19 infection across 38 of the largest cities in Massachusetts.
“Longstanding injustices and inequities in our approach to environmental regulation have contributed to the fact that communities of color have been disparately impacted by this pandemic,” said AG Healey. “We need to work together to address the biases that this crisis exposes, including strengthening regulations, enforcing important environmental laws that fight pollution and protect public health, and advocating for a clean energy future.”
The brief notes that air pollution in Massachusetts, including particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx communities, in part because of regulatory structures and siting processes that concentrate industrial facilities and highways in lower-income communities and communities of color. These disparities have worsened over time, even as air pollution levels have declined in the state overall. In addition, the brief highlights how lower-income communities and communities of color in Massachusetts and globally are and will continue to be hit “first and worst” by climate change impacts such as sea level rise, coastal flooding, strong storms and extreme heat.
“Attorney General Maura Healey is shining a light on the uncomfortable reality that the communities of color that have suffered from environmental injustice are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and climate change impacts,” said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “Thankfully, AG Healey is helping to lead a national push among state attorneys general to address environmental injustice, accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy, and challenge the administration's rollbacks of key environmental and health protections.”
The brief includes recommendations to mitigate the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color in Massachusetts, remedy the legacy of environmental injustice and build climate resilience, including:

  • Investing in clean energy and green jobs to promote economic recovery;
  • Halting rollbacks of environmental regulations, fighting for strong air quality standards, and stepping up enforcement of existing laws;
  • Strengthening requirements to ensure environmental justice communities are protected.


About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
For more information, visit our website