Every year for 25 years, the American Lung Association has analyzed data from official air quality monitors to compile the “State of the Air” report. This report puts air quality information into a simple, “report card” format to help inform people about the quality of the air they breathe. The more you learn, the more you can protect your health and take steps to make the air cleaner and healthier.

“State of the Air” 2024 report grades exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution (also known as smog), annual particle pollution (or soot) and short-term spikes in particle pollution, over a three-year period. This year’s report includes air quality data from 2020-2022 and is updated to reflect the new annual particle pollution standard that EPA finalized in February.

Why should you care about ozone pollution and particle pollution? Both pollutants can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, preterm births and impaired cognitive functioning. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.

So, what did we find in this year’s report?

Here are 5 major takeaways.

1. This year’s report reveals that spikes in deadly particle pollution are the most severe they’ve been in 25 years. 

People in the U.S. experienced more days with ‘very unhealthy’ (code purple) and ‘hazardous’ (code maroon) air quality because of particle pollution than in the history of the report. In fact, the number of “hazardous” days for particle pollution was the highest it’s been in any “State of the Air” report for any pollutant.

2. Increasingly frequent and intense wildfires, fueled by climate change, are largely responsible for these spikes in particle pollution. 

This is resulting in a growing trend that we are seeing emerge in the report of Western states having more problems with short-term particle pollution than Eastern states. This isn’t to say that Eastern states don’t experience short-term particle pollution or wildfire smoke, just that there is a growing disparity showing up in the report.

3. Nearly 4 in 10 people (39%) live in an area that received a failing grade for at least one measure of air pollution. That’s 131 million people in total. 43.9 million people live in areas with failing grades for all three measures. 

  1. 65 million people lived in counties that experienced unhealthy spikes in particle pollution, the highest number in 14 years.
  2. Nearly 91 million people lived in a county that received a failing grade based on the nation’s new, more protective standard for annual particle pollution, the largest number in the report’s history.
  3. Although there were exceptions, ozone pollution generally improved across the nation. More than 100 million people (nearly 30%) lived in an area with unhealthy ozone pollution, which is 2.4 million fewer than last year’s report.

4. People of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air and are also more likely to be living with one or more chronic conditions that make them more vulnerable to air pollution, including asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

The report found that a person of color in the U.S. is more than twice as likely as a white individual to live in a community with a failing grade on all three pollution measures.

5. Policies to clean up air pollution work, but there is more to do. 

We have seen major improvements and progress in the 25 years we have done this report thanks to measures taken under the Clean Air Act. And more clean air protections were just finalized in the last few months! This includes new rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will help clean up particle pollution and address climate change. Now, the Lung Association is urging EPA to set long overdue stronger national limits on ozone pollution. Stronger limits would help people protect themselves and drive cleanup of polluting sources across the country. 

Please sign our petition here urging EPA to set stronger ozone pollution limits.

See the full report results and sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA.

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