Short-term Particle Pollution | American Lung Association

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Short-term Particle Pollution

What Are "Short-term Levels" of Particle Pollution?

Particle pollution can be harmful even if it is inhaled over just a few hours or days, even if the year-round averages are low. "Short-term levels" refers to just such spikes. These represent levels averaged over a 24-hour period. Those days or weeks of high levels can be dangerous, even deadly. Learn more about short-term particle pollution.

Twenty cities among the 25 most-polluted cities experienced fewer days when particle pollution levels spiked, a positive turnaround from the 2017 report when eight had reached their highest number of episodes ever.

One city that did better in 2014-2016 is Bakersfield, CA, which retains its ranking as the most polluted city for particle pollution spikes. Bakersfield has held this position for all but two years since the 2010 report, covering data from 2006-2008.

Four of the 20 cities improved to their fewest days ever on average of high particles in 2014-2016: Fresno- Madera, CA; Salt Lake City; Logan, UT; and Eugene, OR. Also improving over the 2017 report were: San Jose-San Francisco; Los Angeles; Phoenix; Denver; Visalia-Porterfield, CA; Fairbanks, AK; Modesto-Merced, CA; Missoula, MT; Lancaster, PA; Anchorage, AK; South Bend, IN; Yakima, WA; Sacramento, CA; Reno-Carson City, NV; and Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA.

Four cities suffered more spikes in particles in 2014-2016: El Centro, CA; Pittsburgh; Seattle; and Salinas, CA. One city—Indianapolis—remained the same.

Regional differences. Western states, especially California, but also Utah, Montana, Arizona, Colorado and Washington have multiple or large cities on this list. Some reflect ongoing experiences with emissions from high emitting sources trapped by weather inversions that do not allow them to blow away, including, for example, Bakersfield, Visalia, Fresno and Modesto-Merced. Others, like some in California and Missoula, MT, reflect increased wildfires built from the ongoing low rainfall and climate impacts. Several include areas with high use of wood-burning or solid-fuel-burning stoves, including two cities in Alaska—Fairbanks and Anchorage—as well as Logan, UT, and Eugene, OR.

In the eastern states, most of the cities listed here are cities with high year-round levels as well, with three cities in Pennsylvania and two in Indiana on this list. Weather patterns here, too, may have helped build up particles to unhealthy short-term levels.

Data remain missing for Illinois and Mississippi here as well. Most of the other states have at least some data.

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.
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