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People at Risk

The "State of the Air" 2019 shows that too many people in the United States live where the air is unhealthy for them to breathe.

  • More than four in 10 people (43.3 percent) in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Nearly 141.1 million Americans live in 244 counties where they breathe unhealthful levels of air pollution in the form of either ozone or short-term or year-round levels of particles.
    • The number has increased—again. More people suffered unhealthy air in this year's report covering 2015-2017, than in the years covered by the 2018 report (2014-2016) when the total was 133.9 million and more than in the 2017 report (2013-2015), when the total was only 125 million. Fortunately, these are still far below the 166 million in the years covered in the 2016 report (2012-2014).
    • Why? One big reason is climate change. Warmer weather, different rain patterns create continued challenges to long-term progress in reducing harmful air pollution under the Clean Air Act.
  • More than four in 10 (41.1 percent) of the people in the United States live in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution. More than 134.0 million people live in 197 counties that earned an F for ozone in this year's report, significantly more than the approximately 128.9 million people who lived in counties earning an F in 2014-2016, the period covered in last year's report.
  • Nearly one in six people (15.2 percent) in the United States—more than 49.6 million—live in an area with too many days with unhealthful levels of particle pollution. More people experienced those unhealthy spikes than in the last two reports. In the 2018 report, approximately 35.1 million people and in the 2017 report, approximately 43 million people experienced too many unhealthy days.
  • More than 20.5 million people (6.3 percent) suffered from unhealthy year-round levels of particle pollution in 2015-2017. These people lived in 18 counties where the annual average concentration of particle pollution was too high. This population estimate is considerably higher than in last year's report, when the data showed only 9.8 million people who lived where the year-round levels were unhealthy. As explained last year, the lower tally of populations exposed was likely due to missing population data from two counties with incomplete data—Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County in California. Data from those counties are available again and included in this estimate, so their populations were included in the tally this year.
  • Nearly 20.2 million people (6.2 percent) live in 12 counties with unhealthful levels of all three: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution in 2015-2017. The difference in this year's and the 2018 report's estimate of 7.7 million exposed to unhealthy levels for all three measures also comes largely because of the missing data from the two California counties. However, a better comparison is with the 2017 report, which covered 2013-2015, when both California counties reported data. This year's report found an additional 2.1 million people lived in counties in 2015-2017 with unhealthy air for all three measures than the 18 million people reported in the 2017 report.

Many people are at greater risk because of their age or because they have asthma or other chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease or diabetes, or because they have low socioeconomic status. With the risks from airborne pollution so great, the Lung Association seeks to inform people who may be in danger. The following list identifies the numbers of people in each at-risk group.

  • Older and Younger – Nearly 20 million adults age 65 and over and more than 32.5 million children under 18 years old live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 2.6 million seniors and nearly 4.9 million children live in counties failing all three tests.
  • People with Asthma – More than 2.5 million children and more than 9.7 million adults with asthma live in counties of the United States that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 306,000 children and more than 1.2 million adults with asthma live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – More than 6.2 million people with COPD live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 686,000 people with COPD live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Lung Cancer—More than 75,200 people with lung cancer live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 8,600 people with lung cancer live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Cardiovascular Disease – More than 8.2 million people with cardiovascular diseases live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant; nearly 968,000 people live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Diabetes – More than 3.7 million people with diabetes live in counties that received an F for either short-term or year-round particle pollution; more than 1.5 million live in counties failing both tests. Having diabetes increases the risk of harm from particle pollution.

Poverty – More than 17.9 million people with incomes meeting the federal poverty definition live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 3 million people in poverty live in counties failing all three tests. Evidence shows that people who have low incomes may face higher risk from air pollution.

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Did You Know?

  1. More than 4 out of 10 people live where the air they breathe earned an F in State of the Air 2019.
  2. More than 141.1 million people live in counties that received an F for either ozone or particle pollution in State of the Air 2019.
  3. More than 20.1 million people live in counties that got an F for all three air pollution measures in State of the Air 2019.
  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 that 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. Climate change enhances conditions for ozone to form and makes it harder to keep ozone from forming.
  16. Climate change increases the risk of wildfires that spread particle pollution and ozone in the smoke.
  17. This Administration is trying to rollback or create loopholes in core healthy air protections under the Clean Air Act. The Lung Association opposes these actions that will add pollution to the air we breathe.
  18. 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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