America's Cities Show Success Fighting for Air

Despite Gains, American Lung Association finds Healthy Air Remains a Goal, not Reality for Most U.S. Cities

(April 28, 2010)

Cities across the U.S. are showing success in the fight for healthy air. But despite these gains, the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2010 report still finds that healthy air remains a goal, not a reality for most U.S. cities. The report also finds that 58 percent of Americans – more than 175 million – live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Are you one of them? And what can you do about it? We have answers.

Progress seen, much work remains
State of the Air 2010 finds that a decade of cleanup measures, including reductions in coal-fired powered plants emissions and the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines have paid off in cutting levels of deadly particle and ozone pollution in 2006-2008. Improvements have been seen particularly in eastern and Midwestern U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York City, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Washington, DC/Baltimore, MD.

Despite this progress, State of the Air 2010 reveals that more than half the population of the United States suffered pollution levels that were too often dangerous to breathe, in 2006-2008. The report finds that unhealthy air posed a threat to the lives and health of more than 175 million people—roughly 58 percent of the population. And, despite progress in many places, the report finds that some cities, mostly in California, had air that was more polluted than in the previous report.

The 11th annual State of the Air report offers report card style local air quality rankings, including the 25 dirtiest cities. It also offers hope—showing progress made in the fight for clean air, and an action plan to help clean the air and protect our lungs. You can get the grade for your community by typing in your zip code here.


Air pollution and your lungs
State of the Air looks at two of the most widespread air pollutants—ozone and particle pollution—that can cause a host of alarming symptoms, ranging from shortness of breath and asthma attacks, to chest pain, heart attacks, and even premature death. You can learn more about air pollution’s effect on your health here.

Revealing picture
State of the Airpresents a wealth of data and paints a revealing picture of the air we breathe:

  • Air pollution itself remains a real and urgent threat to public health.
  • Some cities have made steady progress to clean up their air, while others have had mixed results or gotten worse since our last report.
  • Approximately six out of ten Americans lived in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.
  • Twenty of the 25 metropolitan areas with the worst year-round pollution reported much lower levels of particle pollution in State of the Air 2010 compared to the 2009 report.
  • Only two cities—Fargo, North Dakota and Lincoln Nebraska —ranked among the cleanest in all three air pollution categories covered in State of the Air.
  • Certain people are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, including infants and children, older adults, people with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, in addition to anyone who works or exercises outdoors.
  • Minorities and lower income groups are disproportionately affected by illnesses caused by air pollution.

What needs to be done
The American Lung Association is calling for Congress to pass the Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010, which will cut emissions from coal-fired power plants that create particle pollution and ozone. The Lung Association also calls on Congress to also ensure that only clean diesel equipment is used in federally-funded construction projects, and to provide funds for the cleanup of existing diesel engines. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to finish measures to clean up power plants and ocean-going vessels, strengthen national standards for outdoor air pollutants—especially ozone and particle pollution—and set tough new standards to require the cleanup of nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and particle emissions from cars.

What we’re doing
The American Lung Association has been leading the fight for clean air for decades.

What you can do
You can do your part to help improve air quality and protect your family today.

  • Drive less; walk, bike, carpool or take transit.
  • Don’t burn wood or trash.
  • Make sure your local school system uses clean school buses.
  • Use less electricity.
  • Don’t exercise on high pollution days and don’t ever exercise near busy freeways.
  • You can join our fight for air by joining our Lung Action Network, making a donation or supporting the work of your local Lung Association.