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. If you live in a fire-prone area, learn more about using N-95 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 diesel or gasoline-powered vehicles. Conserve electricity and purchase your power from clean, non-combustion sources if you can. Don’t burn leaves or trash and avoid burning wood whenever possible.
- Consider taking advantage of tax incentives to reduce emissions from your home and vehicle. One of the best ways to reduce pollution is to switch from vehicles and appliances that burn fuel – like gasoline-powered cars and natural gas stoves and furnaces – to zero-emission versions that run on electricity. Under the Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022, you may be able to get tax credits for buying a new or used electric vehicle or for upgrading your home with efficient, zero-emissions appliances like induction stoves or heat pumps. Learn more here.
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. Under the Inflation Reduction Act, municipalities can opt in to get planning grant funding to reduce climate pollution. Learn more here.
- 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.
Poor air quality is often associated with public health impacts, such as asthma and heart disease. Joanne Kilgour says while protecting people’s health must be a priority, it’s important to not overlook the economic effects of air pollution.
“It’s hard to attract new industry to a place where you can’t promise employees their children will be free of asthma or enjoy the outdoors without the threat of an air quality action day,” says Kilgour, executive director of the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit focused on the greater Ohio Valley and Western Pennsylvania.
“Her region has some of the country’s worst air quality year after year, she says. That limits the time people spend outdoors in an area where recreation can be a powerful economic driver, she adds.
Kilgour says decarbonization is key to reducing emissions and air pollution, with opportunities to leverage investments in fossil-free steel production as an example of strategies that can make a difference.
“There’s a broad understanding that the status quo isn’t serving families and residents in the community,” she says.
Executive Director, Ohio River Valley Institute
- 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.
Providing more options for transit can help reduce traffic and air pollution. As part of the Metro’s Silver Line extension in Virginia last year, Fairfax County added about 4,000 parking spaces in two garages to make the rapid transit line more convenient.
Martha Coello, Special Projects Division Chief at the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, says Park and Rides are a convenient way for people to use public transportation for more than just commuting to work.
“People are looking at these facilities to make transit more accessible and allow them to avoid driving to downtown D.C. for a show or a nice dinner on a Friday,” Coello says. “There’s a good, interconnected impact in that it does take cars off the road which helps air quality.”
The Silver Line extension included three new stations, enhanced bus service, and pedestrian and bicycle improvements. Coello says having infrastructure that makes it comfortable for people to access different modes is key to encouraging public transportation use.
“It’s all about giving people options,” she says.
Special Projects Division Chief, Fairfax County Department of Transportation
The passage of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act was a major victory, providing major investments to reduce air pollution and address climate change that federal agencies are now dolling out. However, these investments are only half the battle. Federal agencies must also finalize strong limits on air pollution to truly protect public health and advance environmental justice.
The Biden administration is behind on its clean air to-do list and must urgently pick up the pace by moving on key clean air regulatory priorities. Take action now. Key priorities include:
- EPA must finalize strong new emissions standards that transition the nation’s cars and trucks to zero-emission vehicles. EPA has already strengthened emissions standards for the next few years of new cars and trucks. Now, EPA must finalize stronger standards for emissions for light-duty and medium-duty vehicles beginning in Model Year 2027. EPA must also finalize a proposed rule to limit pollution from heavy-duty vehicles beginning in Model Year 2027.
- EPA must set stronger national standards for particulate matter and ozone. 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. For ozone, the research shows that a standard of no higher than 60 parts per billion would protect health. 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.
- EPA must clean up power plant pollution. EPA has proposed tighter limits on mercury and air toxics from power plants and must see them across the finish line. This action is critical for communities with a coal- or oil-fired plant nearby that emit dangerous pollutants, harming health. EPA must also propose and finalize rules to limit carbon emissions from the power sector, including for coal, oil and natural gas-fired power plants.
- Federal agencies must further limit pollution from the oil and gas industry. EPA must finalize strong rules that dramatically limit emissions of methane and other harmful air pollutants from the oil and gas industry. Additionally, burning methane gas in appliances in homes contributes to outdoor air pollution and has harmful health impacts indoors, especially for kids with asthma. EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Energy must set standards improving the efficiency of these appliances and continue to foster a transition to zero-emission, electric appliances wherever possible.
The U.S. Congress must pass funding bills that adequately invest in clean air protections, including increased funding for EPA to set and enforce these lifesaving rules and to pass along to state, local and Tribal air agencies to monitor and clean up harmful air pollution.
Page last updated: April 18, 2023