Just under half of Americans are living in areas with unhealthy air, a new report from the American Lung Association
has found. The ALA surveyed air pollution
in each U.S. county over three categories: ozone pollution, short-term particle pollution, and average year long particle pollution. If a county got one “F” ranking for any of those categories, the air in that area was deemed unhealthy.
Between 2015 and 2017, the most recent survey period, ALA estimates that 141 million Americans were breathing unhealthy air, a 7 million person increase from the last survey period. The organization also reported that between 2012 and 2014 166 million Americans were living in areas with unhealthy air, while that number has dropped in recent years, it is now on the rise.
That uptick is in part related to complications from increased heat. The three years under the most recent survey period were the three hottest years on record. Heat accelerates ozone pollution and exacerbates extreme weather. Warmer temperatures can contribute to bigger wildfires that burn for longer which severely reduces air quality, particularly for particulate matter.
While air pollution is harmful to the environment, it is also dangerous for people. Ozone and particle pollution can lead to a variety of health risks
including increased risk for developing asthma in children and respiratory harm for those with asthma; cardiovascular harm in the form of heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease; central nervous system issues; reproductive and developmental complications; and cancer.