For the past 24 years, the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report has shed light on the dangers that Americans face just by breathing unhealthy air. The report, which covers a three-year period, monitors exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution (or smog), annual particle pollution (or soot), and short-term spikes in particle pollution. This year’s report covers 2019-2021 and shows that, though there have been improvements, there is still a lot to do to allow all Americans to breathe easily.
Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.
Key Takeaways from “State of the Air” 2023
Overall, air quality improved in this year’s report compared to last year’s. The report finds that 17.6 million fewer Americans live in counties with unhealthy air compared to last year’s report. However, still nearly 120 million people (more than 1 in 3) live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.
Ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, with 19.3 million fewer people living in areas with unhealthy ozone. This improvement is a result of several factors, including the success of the Clean Air Act, the transition away from coal-powered energy and annual variation in weather conditions. Still, 103 million people continue to live in unhealthy ozone pollution areas, including nearly 9 million children and adults with asthma.
More pronounced than previous years, there was a major difference in air quality between eastern and western states. The worst 25 counties for short-term particle pollution were all located in the Western U.S., and more than 18 million Western residents live in counties with three failing grades. Wildfires in the western U.S., especially California, are not only increasing the number of days and places with unhealthy levels of particle pollution, but also the severity of pollution.
This year’s report identified major differences in air pollution exposures for white people and people of color. Out of the nearly 120 million people who live in areas with unhealthy air quality, a disproportionate number – more than 64 million (54%) – are people of color. People of color were 64% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one measure, and 3.7 times as likely to live in a county with failing grades for all three measures.
Top Ten Most Polluted Cities
Take Action for Clean Air
Changing air quality for the better is not out of our control. Here are three easy steps you can take to make a difference:
- Reduce your contribution to air pollution by choosing to walk or bike instead of taking gas-powered transportation to work. Or choose to carpool or take public transit instead of driving individually. Additionally, discontinue any burning of trash or leaves. Lastly, consider taking advantage of Inflation Reduction Act tax credits to purchase cleaner, more efficient electric vehicles and appliances.
- Keep your lungs healthy by monitoring the air quality indoors and outdoors. You can check your air quality forecast and, if it is poor, take precautions.
- Join the Lung Association and become an advocate for clean air by calling on President Biden to urgently move forward on several measures to clean up air pollution nationwide. This includes imposing new pollution limits on ozone and particle pollution and establishing new measures to clean up power plants and vehicles. Sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA.
Blog last updated: August 25, 2023