Protect Yourself and Your Community

Armed with the knowledge of the state of your air, you can take action. Take steps to reduce your personal risk, reduce your own contributions to air pollution to improve the air in your community, and promote policies at the federal level that clean up air pollution and address climate change.

Reduce Your Personal Risk

You can take action to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of air pollution. Regardless of its grade or ranking in this report, any community can experience days with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Some simple precautions will reduce your risk:

Check daily air pollution forecasts in your area. The color-coded forecasts can let you know when the air is unhealthy in your community. Sources include local radio and TV weather reports, newspapers and online at airnow.gov.

Avoid exercising outdoors when pollution levels are high. When the air is bad, use an indoor exercise machine, or walk indoors in a shopping mall or gym once it’s safe to spend time in indoor public spaces. Limit the amount of time your child spends playing outdoors if the air quality is unhealthy.

Always avoid exercising near high-traffic areas. Even when air quality forecasts are green, the vehicles on busy highways can create high pollution levels up to one-third a mile away.

Protect yourself from wildfire smoke if you live in a fire-prone area. Learn more about using masks and creating a clean room inside your home with our wildfire resources.

Shared Story Spotlight : Maria J.

Maria J. has lived in the Atlanta area for more than six years. The region’s lush tree canopy and abundant green spaces make it an appealing place to live. But poor air quality can keep people like her indoors. Maria, who has asthma, avoids exercising outdoors when air quality alerts are issued.

“If they call an Ozone Action Day, I won’t do an outdoor activity,” she says. “I have more trouble breathing those days.”

Improve the Air in Your Community

You can also take action to keep harmful pollution out of the air in the first place:

Drive less. Walk or bike whenever you can. Prioritize public transit for longer distances. If you drive a gas-powered car, combine trips or carpool to cut down on harmful emissions. And if you’re getting ready to buy a car, consider an electric vehicle.

Use less electricity. Turn out the lights, set your thermostat to reduce energy use when you’re out of the house, and use energy-efficient electric appliances. Generating electricity is one of the biggest sources of pollution, particularly in the eastern United States. If you have the option in your community, buy power from clean, renewable sources.

Don't burn wood or trash. Burning wood and trash is among the largest sources of particle pollution in many parts of the country. If you can, swap out your woodstove for an alternative source of heat. Avoid the use of outdoor hydronic heaters, also called outdoor wood boilers, which are frequently much more polluting than woodstoves.

Compost and recycle as much as possible and dispose of other waste properly; don't burn it. Support efforts in your community to ban outdoor burning of construction and yard wastes. And skip the firepit or bonfire for outdoor gatherings.

Make sure your local school system requires cleaner school buses, which includes replacing them with electric buses or retrofitting old school buses with pollution filters and other equipment to reduce emissions. Make sure your local schools don't idle their buses; this step can immediately reduce emissions. Parents shouldn't idle in their cars outside of schools either. That exhaust ends up inside idling vehicles, and often gets into classrooms.

Get involved in your community. Local governments make critical decisions that impact your air quality and our climate, from deciding whether to build bike lanes and sidewalks to determining whether a local industrial facility can expand its operations – and possibly its pollution. You don’t have to be an expert to get involved. Reach out to your representatives, share this report and explain why you want them to protect your family’s health from air pollution when making local planning decisions. You can help put a personal face on the importance of clean air in a way that they’ll remember when it comes time to make decisions.

Share your story. Use your personal experiences with air pollution and climate change to help drive policy action at the state and federal level, too. Tell us why you care about clean air and we’ll share your words with decision-makers to highlight the importance of policies that promote clean, healthy air for all to breathe.

For more tips and resources on how your actions can improve air quality, join our Stand Up For Clean Air initiative.

Promote Clean Air Policies

People are facing multiple threats to their lung health all at once: air pollution from fossil fuel use, woodburning and wildfires; various impacts of climate change; and the COVID-19 pandemic. And communities of color are faced with inequities in each of these areas of threat that put their health at greater risk. The good news is that the nation has an opportunity to curb climate change, clean up air pollution and promote health equity all at the same time. Every level of government must drive the transition from fossil fuels and combustion to clean, renewable electricity and zero-emission transportation. In particular, the White House, the U.S. Congress and federal agencies have real opportunities to take ambitious action to protect health now and in the future.

Key actions the federal government must take to promote clean air include:

President Biden: Ensure Investments in Climate Action Benefit Underserved Communities
Communities of color too often bear disproportionate burdens of air pollution because of nearby power plants, industrial facilities, highways, ports and other polluting sources. Efforts to clean up air pollution and address climate change must prioritize underserved communities with unhealthy air – not leave them behind. Any efforts to reduce emissions must ensure benefits to the communities most affected by them and ensure that no polluting facility uses offsets or emissions trading to avoid cleanup. Policies to reduce carbon emissions from power plants should maximize reductions in other air pollutants at the same time. And 40% of the nation’s investments in this transition to clean, renewable energy and zero-emission transportation must improve air quality, health and life in underserved communities. Take action now.

Congress: Pass COVID Recovery Legislation that Builds Healthier Communities
Congress is considering legislation to provide economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and investments in a healthier future, and it is critical that this legislation include measures to clean up air pollution, address climate change and ensure environmental justice. There are many ways Congressional legislation could reduce emissions, such as investing further in clean, non-combustion renewable electricity and incentivizing zero-emission cars, transit buses, school buses and trucks and the necessary infrastructure to support an electric transportation sector.

Congress: Invest in State, Local and Tribal Air Quality Programs and Monitoring
The Clean Air Act set up smart, open processes for protecting Americans from air pollution, which have enabled the U.S. to reduce some of the most common pollutants by more than 70 percent over the last 50 years. Still, these processes only work if EPA and state, local and Tribal air agencies have the funding and staffing they need to monitor air pollution and implement and enforce the law. The Lung Association calls on Congress to ensure that EPA has sufficient funding to protect public health with a full range of programs, including by meaningfully increasing investments in state, local and Tribal air quality grants. Current funding for these air agencies falls far short of what is needed to monitor and address local air quality, let alone meet the ambitious goals President Biden has set on climate change and environmental justice.

EPA: Set Stronger National Limits on Ozone and Particle Pollution
The national limits on ozone and particle pollution are too weak to fully protect health. The review process done under the previous administration failed to fully consider the current science, as required under the Clean Air Act. EPA must immediately initiate robust reviews for both the particle pollution and ozone limits and set the strongest standards supported by the science to fully protect health

EPA: Limit Methane from New and Existing Oil and Gas Sources
The oil and gas sector is the largest contributor to methane pollution in the United States. Methane is an extremely potent climate pollutant and is a precursor of ozone pollution. Volatile organic compounds, which are emitted alongside methane from oil and gas sources, also lead to ozone formation and can cause cancers, irritation of the lungs and developmental disorders. To ensure that communities are protected from leaks of dangerous air pollutants and climate-warming methane, EPA must repeal the Final Policy and Technical Amendments to the New Source Performance Standards for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Rule and set stronger limits on new industry sources. EPA must also set strict limits on methane from existing oil and gas sources.

EPA: Set a Strong, Long-Term Plan to Reduce Vehicle Emissions
For the nation to meet President Biden’s ambitious climate goals, it must make plans now to rapidly transition from diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles to zero-emission electric cars and trucks. EPA must set strong pollution standards including limits on greenhouse gas emissions for cars and SUVs, not just for the next few years, but for 2025 and beyond. EPA must also move forward with cleaning up trucks to dramatically reduce pollution including nitrogen oxide emissions, a key component in the formation of ozone pollution.

EPA: Clean Up Wood Heaters
Wood-burning stoves and heaters are major contributors to particle pollution in many communities. EPA has standards that require new wood heaters to be less polluting and is supposed to ensure that appliances meet those standards by certifying them and periodically testing them. Unfortunately, recent research revealed major gaps in these processes that could mean polluting stoves are being sold under the guise of being cleaner.1 EPA must ensure full implementation and enforcement of its new source standards for wood heaters.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB):Account for the Health Benefits of Cleaning Up Air Pollution
The White House Office of Management and Budget analyzes the costs and benefits of regulations before they become law. Clean air protections are very cost-effective – EPA has estimated that the benefits of rules under the Clean Air Act outweigh the costs by more than 30 to one. However, cost-benefit analyses too often fail to capture many of the health harms of air pollution or to reflect the disproportionate burden it places on some communities. OMB must make good on President Biden’s pledge to ensure that health and equity are better taken into account in its analyses.

Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases: Set a Social Cost of Carbon that Reflects Health Impacts
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that federal agencies must fully account for the costs of climate change and integrate climate change planning across the agency’s work. To do that, the federal government must set a social cost of carbon (and of other greenhouse gases) that accounts for the many health impacts of climate change.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): Help Integrate Climate and Health Across the Federal Government
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Climate and Health Program, housed in the Department of Health and Human Services, helps communities across the country prepare for and meet the health impacts of climate change. This office can help ensure that health is at the center of climate conversations across the federal government as all agencies work to meet President Biden’s whole-of-government approach to addressing climate change.

 

Did You Know?

  1. More than four in ten Americans live where the air they breathe earned an F in “State of the Air” 2021.
  2. More than 135 million people live in counties that received an F for either ozone or particle pollution in “State of the Air” 2021.
  3. Close to 20.7 million people live in counties that got an F for all three air pollution measures in “State of the Air” 2021.
  4. Breathing ozone irritates the lungs, resulting in inflammation—as if there were a bad sunburn within the lungs.
  5. Breathing in particle pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer.
  6. Particle pollution can cause early death and heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits.
  7. Particles in air pollution can be 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. If you live or work near a busy highway, traffic pollution 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 children, older adults and people with lung diseases such as asthma.
  12. People of color and those earning lower incomes are disproportionately affected by air pollution that puts them at higher risk for illness.
  13. Air pollution is a serious health threat. It can trigger asthma attacks, harm lung development in children, and even be deadly.
  14. You can protect yourself by checking the air quality forecasts in your community and avoiding exercising or working outdoors when unhealthy air is expected.
  15. Climate change enhances conditions for ozone pollution to form and makes it harder clean up communities where ozone levels are high.
  16. Climate change increases the risk of wildfires that spread particle pollution in the smoke.
  17. The Biden Administration has made bold commitments to improve air quality, especially in communities that have faced disproportionate levels of pollution. The Lung Association is advocating to make sure they are realized.
  18. The nation has the Clean Air Act to thank for decades of improvements in air quality. This landmark law has driven pollution reduction for 50 years.
  19. Cutting air pollution through the Clean Air Act was projected to prevent over 230,000 deaths and save nearly $2 trillion in 2020 alone.
Get more facts » 
Take Action
  1. NESCAUM. Assessment of EPA’s residential wood heater certification program test report review: stoves & central heaters. Boston MA. March 2021. Accessed March 22, 2021 at https://www.nescaum.org/documents/nescaum-review-of-epa-rwh-nsps-certification-program-202103.pdf.

Page last updated: April 22, 2021

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