- About 137 million Americans continue to live with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.
- Western cities, primarily in California, again topped the list of most polluted metropolitan areas.
The country’s air remains at unhealthy levels for millions of Americans, in part because of wildfires sparked by climate change, according to a report released Thursday by the American Lung Association.
The report, titled State of the Air 2022, “shows that an unacceptable number of Americans still live in areas with poor air quality, which could impact their health,” said Harold Wimmer. , president and national CEO of the association, in a press release.
The 23rd annual report also shows that there have been more days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the report’s two-decade history.
In fact, despite some improvements in air quality over the past 50 years, about 137 million Americans continue to live with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the report. “There are still far too many days where far too many people are breathing polluted air,” Paul Billings, senior national vice president for public policy at the lung association, told USA TODAY.
The report discusses the two main types of air pollution: smog (also known as ground-level ozone) and soot (technically called “particulates”).
Smog forms on hot, sunny days and is made worse by chemicals that come out of vehicle tailpipes, power plants and industrial smokestacks. Warmer temperatures make ozone more likely to form. Ground-level ozone pollution is a powerful respiratory irritant whose effects have been likened to “sunburn of the lungs”.
Soot pollution is deadlier and more dangerous to health than smog, causing more premature deaths and lung cancer, the lung association said.
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The report, which was based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, covers the years 2018, 2019 and 2020. The lung association said that regardless of pandemic-related shutdowns in early 2020, there was no obvious improvement in air quality during this period. weather.
Although there has been a long-term improvement in the country’s air quality thanks to decades of work to reduce emissions, it has been partly offset by warmer and drier conditions caused by climate change. climate, the lung association said.
Wildfires, exacerbated in part by climate change, have been responsible for a sharp increase in particulate pollution spikes in several western US states. Overall, the report finds that 2.1 million more Americans live in counties with unhealthy air than last year’s report, and exposure to deadly soot has worsened.
“Additionally, communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air,” Wimmer said. “The report found that people of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one pollutant.”
Western cities, primarily in California, again dominated the list of most polluted metropolitan areas: the most polluted US city was Los Angeles, and cities with the worst soot pollution included Bakersfield (for year-round particulates) and Fresno (for short-term pollution). particulate pollution.)
What is the solution to improve air quality?
“We seriously need to stop burning fossil fuels,” Billings said, adding that climate change remains the most serious threat to the nation’s air quality.