On September 25, the nation will celebrate the latest achievements in lung health in recognition of World Lung Day. It is so important to celebrate the progress that has been made to protect lung health, but many things still need to be done to achieve healthy air and create a world free of lung disease. Established by The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), World Lung Day is a time for us all to take a hard look at what we can do, individually and as a society, to work toward clean air and healthy lungs for all.
Breathing is essential to life, and lung health impacts every part of the body. Though the rate of new cases has decreased by 10% in the last few years, lung cancer continues to be the number one cancer killer in the U.S. Lung diseases like COVID-19 and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are the leading causes of death nationwide. Combined with 12.5 million individuals living with COPD, asthma affects 24.8 million Americans, including 4.2 million children, for a combined total of more than 34 million Americans impacted.
Most respiratory diseases are preventable, but it is up to us to be vigilant. There are many risk factors for developing or worsening lung disease in the air.
The air you breathe outdoors is generally cleaner than it was a few decades ago thanks to efforts driven largely by the Clean Air Act, but too much dangerous pollution remains. The 2022 “State of the Air” report finds that despite decades of progress on cleaning up sources of air pollution, more than 40% of Americans—over 137 million people—are living in places with failing grades for unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone pollution and particle pollution. The burden isn’t shared equally – people of color are more than three times as likely as white people to live in the most polluted counties.
There are many sources of air pollution. Harmful emissions come from cars and trucks that burn gasoline and diesel; burning coal, natural gas, oil, wood and biomass, and more.
The same sources of pollution that contribute to dangerous air pollution also contribute to climate change that harms health in communities nationwide. Climate change harms lung health in many ways – from worsened air pollution due to wildfire smoke and increased levels of ozone pollution, to longer and more intense allergy seasons, to increased risk from water-borne and vector-borne diseases, to more frequent and intense flooding resulting in more mold and respiratory threats that occur after flooding events. We can and must address the sources of air pollution and climate change and air pollution at the same time.
At the Lung Association, we’ve set our sights on a nationwide transition to zero-emission transportation and electricity. Simply put, we want to move away from burning fuel, whether it’s gasoline in a car, diesel in a truck, or coal, natural gas or wood in a power plant. Action at every level of government is needed to make this transition, but there are steps individuals can take to help protect ourselves and our loved ones from dangerous outdoor air pollution.
We urge everyone to take a few simple steps:
- Visit airnow.gov to check out the air quality where you live. On days with unhealthy air quality, take precautions to reduce your exposure to outdoor air pollution.
- Walk, bike or carpool. Use buses, subways, light rail systems, commuter trains or other alternatives to driving your car to help reduce air pollution from vehicles.
- Reduce energy use where you can. Check out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s easy tips for conserving energy at home.
- Use hand-powered or electric lawn care equipment rather than gasoline-powered. Old two-stroke engines like lawnmowers and leaf or snow blowers often have no pollution control devices.
- Don't burn wood or trash. Burning firewood and trash is a major source of particle pollution (soot) in many parts of the country.
Most importantly, get involved. Our leaders must continue working to reduce air pollution and to protect our health from the impacts of climate change, which can worsen air quality. Sign a petition to urge EPA to set pollution standards that protect health, and share your story about why healthy air matters to you!
Blog last updated: November 17, 2022