The American Lung Association has released its 22nd annual State of the Air Report. It found that 135 million Americans live with polluted air that is putting their health and lives at risk. It also found that the burden is not being shared equally with people of color 61 percent more likely to live in a county with polluted air than white people. While some parts of the country made improvements with 14.8 million fewer Americans inhaling unhealthy year compared to last year, the threat of particulate air pollution is worsening. Close to 1.1 million Americans were found to be living in areas with unhealthy levels of PM2.5 pollution compared to last year's report.
Microscopic PM2.5 particles emanate from many sources such as diesel engines, coal-fired power plants, wildfires and wood-burning stoves. They can cause a range of health issues including asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and the development of lung cancer while, more recently, they have also been linked to worse outcomes in Covid-19 patients. Every year, the report ranks U.S. cities across two categories of air pollution - short-term particle pollution and year-round particle pollution. 54.4 million Americans fall into the first category and have to live with dangerous spikes in short-term particle pollution, primarily due to residential woodburning and wildfire smoke.
20.9 million Americans have to live with year-round particle pollution, the second category. Based on the the National Air Quality standard for year-round particle pollution, counties scoring below 12 were given "Pass" grades while those scoring above were "failed". Once again, Bakersfield, California, was named the worst U.S. city for year-round particle pollution despite the fact that it managed to improve its levels of short-term PM2.5. It was followed on the list of worst-performing cities by Fresno-Madera-Hanford and Visalia, both of which are also in California. Poor air quality has been a problem for years in California and the state retained its distinction of having the worst performing cities in the report, with 10 of the 25 most polluted cities in the country.