Despite such good news, Atlanta still has startling health disparities. Not surprisingly, the wealthier, whiter north and east sides have better health outcomes in virtually every category, while the poorer, blacker south and west sides suffer from more environmental pollution, inadequate nutrition, and shorter life expectancies. For instance, although air quality is better overall, air pollution from particulates is worse in Atlanta neighborhoods near the Interstates, particularly where I-75 and I-85 join as the Downtown Connector, as well as near rail yards, where diesel locomotives spew black carbon particles, and industrial areas where truck travel is heaviest – all concentrated in south and west Atlanta.
Examining health outcomes for Fulton County is illuminating, since its southern district includes much of south and west Atlanta. The death rate from asthma attacks is five times higher there than the wealthiest northern district of the county. Why? The answer lies only partly in less access to health insurance and quality medical care, or air pollution from the nearby interstates. The real culprit behind asthma deaths is residential air quality. In these impoverished neighborhoods, most people rent, often in substandard housing with water leaks and mold. A landlord might slap a coat of paint over a water-stained wall just before a new tenant moves in, and many do not install high-quality air filters; some don’t provide any air filtration.
The infant mortality data for Fulton County is equally revealing. In 2014, for every thousand live births, 4.4 white babies died, while 13.8 black infants perished. In other words, if you were born to African-American parents in that county – almost certainly meaning in the southern part – you were more than three times as likely to die at birth as a white child, and you were twice as likely to have a low birth weight. For every white mother in Fulton County who didn’t survive childbirth in 2014, four black mothers died.
The death rate from all causes in the county is a third higher for blacks than whites. Twice as many Fulton County blacks died in car crashes as whites. Violence is far worse in the impoverished neighborhoods, so that 13 times more African Americans were murdered than whites in the county in 2014. Atlanta ranked near the top of violent crime rates in central city rankings of the ten largest metro areas in America.