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Health Effects of Ozone and Particle Pollution

Two types of air pollution dominate in the U.S.: ozone and particle pollution.1 These two pollutants threaten the health and the lives of millions of Americans. Thanks to the Clean Air Act, the U.S. has far less of both pollutants now than in the past. Still, more than 166 million people live in counties where monitors show unhealthy levels of one or both—meaning the air a family breathes could shorten life or cause lung cancer.

So what are ozone and particle pollution?

Ozone Pollution

It may be hard to imagine that the most widespread pollutant in the U.S. is also one of the most dangerous—and invisible. Learn more about ozone.

Particle Pollution

Ever look at dirty truck exhaust? Overwhelming evidence shows that particle pollution—like that coming from that exhaust smoke—can kill. Particle pollution can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks and can interfere with the growth and work of the lungs. Learn more about particle pollution.

Focusing on Children's Health

Children face special risks from air pollution because their lungs are growing and because they are so active. Learn more about children and air pollution.

Disparities in the Impact of Air Pollution

The burden of air pollution is not evenly shared. Poorer people and some racial and ethnic groups are among those who often face higher exposure to pollutants. Learn more about disparities and air pollution.

Living Near Highways

Being in heavy traffic, or living near a road, may be even more dangerous than being in other places in a community. Learn more about living near highways and air pollution.

How to Protect Yourself from Ozone and Particle Pollution

You can take steps to protect yourself and your family. Get 10 tips to protect yourself from unhealthy air.

  • Footnote
    1. Ozone and particle pollution are the most widespread, but they aren't the only serious air pollutants. Others include carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide, as well as scores of toxins such as mercury, arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, and acid gases. However, the monitoring networks are not as widespread nationwide for the other pollutants.

Did You Know?

  1. More than 5 out of 10 people live where the air they breathe earned an F in State of the Air 2016.
  2. Nearly 166 million people live in counties that received an F for either ozone or particle pollution in State of the Air 2016.
  3. Nearly 20 million people live in counties that got an F for all three air pollution measures in State of the Air 2016.
  4. Breathing ozone irritates the lungs, resulting in something like a bad sunburn within the lungs.
  5. Breathing in particle pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
  6. Particle pollution can also cause early death and heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for people with asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  7. Particles are smaller than 1/30th the diameter of a human hair. When you inhale them, they are small enough to get past the body's natural defenses.
  8. Ozone and particle pollution are both linked to increased risk of lower birth weight in newborns.
  9. Do you live near, or work on or near a busy highway? Pollution from the traffic may put you at greater risk of harm.
  10. People who work or exercise outside face increased risk from the effects of air pollution.
  11. Millions of people are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, including infants, older adults and people with lung diseases like asthma.
  12. People of color and those earning lower incomes are often disproportionately affected by air pollution which put them at higher risk for illnesses.
  13. Air pollution is a serious health threat. It can trigger asthma attacks, harm lung development in children, and can even be deadly.
  14. You can protect your family by checking the air quality forecasts in your community and avoiding exercising or working outdoors when the unhealthy air is expected.
  15. Big polluters and some members of Congress are trying to change the Clean Air Act and dismantle 45 years' of progress. The Lung Association is fighting to keep the law strong to continue to protect public health.
  16. Cutting air pollution through the Clean Air Act will prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020.
Get more facts »
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