We need action at every level to clean up air pollution and address climate change.

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 at airnow.gov. The color-coded forecasts let you know when the air is unhealthy in your community. When the air is bad, move your exercise plans and other activities indoors. 
  • 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 at Lung.org/wildfire.  
  • Reduce your own contributions to air pollution. Prioritize walking, biking and public transit over gasoline-powered vehicles. Conserve electricity and purchase your power from clean, non-combustion sources if you can. Don’t burn wood, leaves or trash. Learn more about how to reduce your impact with our Stand Up For Clean Air initiative at Lung.org/air.

Alia V. resides in an area with periodically severe air pollution. Yet there are many aspects of Houston she loves, such as its tremendous cultural and educational resources. The city also has green transportation initiatives, including a municipal hybrid fleet. 

In summer, she and her husband limit their kids’ time outside on ozone action days. Because public transit options in the region are limited, she relies on her car to travel even on days with high ozone levels. 

She says awareness about the importance of air quality is on the rise locally, although it’s a problem that really demands a statewide approach. For example, increasing the incentive to opt for electric vehicles “would help people balance their transportation needs with sustainability.” 

Also, with Houston being near the Gulf of Mexico, there are numerous oil refineries just south of the city. “There have been from time to time chemical fires where you’ll have air impacts,” Alia says. “When those things occur, people stay indoors.” 

Alia V.
Houston, Texas

Local governments have the power to help ensure that city and county operations are zero-emission and that residents have the ability to choose zero-emission forms of transportation and electricity. These actions must benefit the communities most impacted by unhealthy air.  

  • Adopt a climate action plan. Reduce city- and county-wide emissions by supporting walking, biking and transit and zero-emission-vehicle infrastructure, and ensuring that building and parking policies support these goals. Include measures to address the impacts of climate change on residents, including health impacts.  
  • Purchase zero-emission fleet vehicles. Commit to purchasing zero-emission garbage and recycling trucks, transit buses, school buses and other vehicles.  
  • Establish purchasing goals for renewable, non-combustion electricity. Power city and county operations with truly clean sources of electricity like wind, solar, geothermal or tidal.  
  • Set a clean or renewable electricity standard or clean peak standard that phases out the use of coal, oil, natural gas (also known as methane gas) and other combustion and replaces it with wind, solar, geothermal and tidal and other non-combustion forms of electricity. Do not allow for the increased use of biomass or municipal solid waste for electricity because of their contributions to particle pollution. 
  • Invest in air quality monitoring. In addition to EPA funding placement of air quality monitors, communities should increase monitoring to capture pollution levels that disproportionately impact communities near polluting sources in order to address them. 
  • States: Use Clean Air Act authority to adopt the California zero-emissions standards for light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. These include California’s Low-Emission Vehicle criteria pollutant and greenhouse gas regulations; Zero-Emission Vehicle regulations; and Advanced Clean Trucks regulations. 

Every federal agency, the White House and Congress must act now to dramatically reduce air and climate pollution and drive an urgent nationwide transition to zero-emission transportation and electricity. 40% of the investments made to meet these goals must improve air quality, health and life in underserved communities. Key, urgent opportunities for action include: 

  • Congress must pass investments in zero-emission electricity and transportation into law. Key investments included in the House-passed Build Back Better Act urgently need to be passed into law in order to drive the nationwide zero-emission transition needed to clean up harmful air pollution and address climate change.  
  • EPA must propose and finalize strong new emissions standards that transition the nation’s cars and trucks to zero-emission vehicles. EPA must set stronger standards for greenhouse gas emissions for light-duty vehicles beginning in Model Year 2027.  EPA must finalize a strong rule for heavy-duty vehicles this year and adopt an additional rule beginning in Model Year 2030. 
  • EPA must set a stronger national standard for particulate matter. The research shows that the new standard should be set at 8 micrograms per cubic meter annually, and 25 micrograms per cubic meter daily, to protect those at greatest risk of harm. Not only will stronger standards drive cleanup of polluting sources nationwide, they will also mean that families across the country are better informed about when their local air quality may put their health at risk. Take action.
  • EPA must set a stronger national standard for ozone. The scientific evidence shows that a standard of 60 parts per billion would better protect people from harm, especially those at greatest risk. As with particulate matter, stronger standards will not only ensure cleanup of polluting sources, but also better empower people to avoid dangerous levels of this pollutant.  

Did You Know?

  1. More than four in ten Americans live where the air they breathe earned an F in “State of the Air” 2022.
  2. More than 137 million people live in counties that received an F for either ozone or particle pollution in “State of the Air” 2022.
  3. Close to 19.8 million people live in counties that got an F for all three air pollution measures in “State of the Air” 2022.
  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.
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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 15, 2022