New Report Finds One-Third of Americans Breathe Dirty Air At Least 3 Months A Year

Cover of report by Environment America Research & Policy Center, USPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group

In 2018, nearly 110 million Americans lived in areas with air quality that was unhealthy for more than 100 days of the year, according to a new report published on Tuesday by Environment America Research & Policy Center, USPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group.  And 157 million more live in areas that have degraded air quality, it’s just degraded less often, and these citizens who live with excessive air pollution are spread across the country in large and small cities and even in rural areas.

Why This Matters:  Dirty air negatively impacts’ people’s health and even their life expectancy — as we have often reported here in Our Daily Planet, and air quality in the U.S. is not good enough, despite what the current administration may try to claimIndeed, New York Magazine reported last fall that after a 25 percent decline in fine-particulate pollution over the seven years prior to Trump’s election, particulate pollution increased by 5.5 percent from 2016 to 2018, according to an analysis of EPA data by researchers at Carnegie Mellon. We also know that climate change is exacerbating the problem according to the report, and thus we will in the future see an increase in the incidences of respiratory and cardiovascular health problems, including premature death.  And nowhere in the U.S. is immune from this problem — the authors say that people in every state face health risks from ground-level ozone pollution.

The Top Ten Worse Cities For Air Quality

In order they are:  (1) greater Los Angeles; (2) greater Chicago; (3) greater Dallas-Fort Worth; (4) greater Houston; (5) greater Atlanta; (6) greater Phoenix; (7) greater San Bernadino (CA); (8) greater Detroit; (9) greater San Diego; and (10) greater Denver. The California cities had poor air quality for much longer — with San Bernadino having a staggering 227 bad air days in 2018.

What Are the Negative Health Effects

According to the study, the impacts are significant.  For example:

  • Fine particulate matter from sources such as vehicles and power plants was responsible for an estimated 107,000 premature deaths in the U.S. in 2011.
  • Air pollution is linked to health problems including respiratory illness, heart attack, stroke, cancer and mental health problems.
  • Pregnant women who are exposed to air pollution such as fine particulates (PM2.5) and ozone have a higher risk of low birth weight, pre-term birth and stillbirth.
  • For older adults, long-term exposure to particulate pollution has been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
  •  Research has found that children exposed to particulate pollution can suffer from lung development problems and long-term harm to lung function.
  • As we have reported, EPA researchers have long linked asthma— a serious and life-threatening chronic respiratory disease that affects the quality of life of more than 23 million Americans— with exposure to air pollution. Cities with some of the worst air pollution have the highest rates of asthma.

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