New Lung Association Report: 9 in 10 Californians Live with Polluted Air; 1 in 3 Nationwide Exposed to Unhealthy Air

American Lung Association 2023 “State of the Air” report highlights air quality in California and across the nation
The American Lung Association’s 24th annual “State of the Air” report highlights that despite decades of strong progress in cleaning the air, Californians still face the most difficult air pollution challenges in the nation. More than 98 percent of Californians live in a community earning a failing grade for unhealthy ozone pollution days, unhealthy particle pollution days and/or unhealthful annual particle pollution levels. More than 4 in 10 Californians live in an area with failing grades for each pollutant.

“Local and state actions have driven real progress in California, but there is much work to be done to ensure every Californian has clean, healthy air to breathe,” said Mariela Ruacho, Clean Air Advocacy Manager for the Lung Association. “Even one poor air quality day is one too many for children, older adults, people with chronic illness, lower-income residents and people of color. Policymakers at the local, state and federal levels must act to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe, and no community is left behind.”

Twelve California cities appear on at least one of the lists of the most polluted cities in the nation. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Bakersfield, Fresno-Madera-Hanford, Sacramento-Roseville, San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, and Visalia included appear on each of the most polluted cities lists for unhealthy ozone days, particle pollution days and annual particle pollution levels. Notable California findings from the “State of the Air” 2023 report follow:

Los Angeles-Long Beach ranks as the most ozone-polluted metro area in the United States again in “State of the Air” 2023, as it has for all but one report. The region improved in both fewer unhealthy ozone days and particle pollution days compared to last year’s report. San Diego-Carlsbad also improved and saw its fewest ever-reported ozone pollution days (24.7 days per year on average) and ranks 8th in the nation for ozone pollution. El Centro showed improvement on each pollutant, but still ranks among the worst for ozone (13th) and annual particles (18th most polluted in the nation).

Bakersfield is the most polluted city in America in terms of unhealthy days of particle pollution, while also tying Visalia as the most polluted American city for annual particle pollution levels.  Visalia saw more unhealthy ozone days in this year’s report and ranks second among all US cities for most ozone days. Bakersfield also ranks third in the nation for unhealthy ozone days but improved to the fewest number of days ever reported (86.7 days per year on average) in “State of the Air” 2023.

The Fresno-Madera-Hanford metro area appears in the Top Five on each list but improved on all three measures compared to the 2022 report. Notably, the metro area’s ozone pollution days fell to their lowest-ever in the “State of the Air” 2023 report, averaging 54 days annually.

Sacramento-Roseville appears among the Top 10 for each of the most polluted cities lists, with major wildfire smoke events pushing annual particle levels to their highest in this year’s report. Wildfires also added to the burdens reported in the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland metro area, where every county earned a failing grade for particle pollution days despite all improving over last year’s report. Chico and Redding-Red Bluff also appear among the most polluted cities with significant increases in particle pollution following major wildfires in recent years. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles ranks as the 21st most ozone-polluted city, while Salinas appears on the most polluted list for annual particles (Salinas also appears on the Cleanest Cities list for zero ozone days).

Traffic pollution and wildfire smoke episodes contribute heavily to California’s worst in the nation pollution challenges. California must continue to push toward zero-emission technologies and healthier transportation choices while also working to reduce and respond to the growing threat of uncontrolled wildfire smoke events.

“California must shift to zero-emission technologies and invest public funds only in transportation projects that support healthy air,” said Mariela Ruacho. “We can’t continue to invest in road projects that add to air pollution and health disparities. Setting stronger standards for zero-emission truck fleets and cleaner locomotive operations are among the best opportunities to protect health. Ensuring California’s clean air and fire agencies are equipped to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire smoke events is also a major need in the fight for clean air.”

The Lung Association’s 24th annual “State of the Air” report grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2019-2021.

Nationally, the report found that ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, thanks in large part to the success of the Clean Air Act. However, more work remains to fully clean up harmful pollution, and short-term particle pollution continues to get worse. In addition, some communities bear a greater burden of air pollution. 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. In fact, 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.

The American Lung Association is calling on President Biden to urgently move forward on several measures to clean up air pollution nationwide, including new pollution limits on ozone and particle pollution and new measures to clean up power plants and vehicles. See the full report results and sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA.
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