Many in colored quarters are breathing more unhealthy air than ever

According to a report released this week by the American Lung Association, nearly half of Americans — 137 million people — are experiencing more ‘very unhealthy’ and ‘hazardous’ air quality days than in two decades. combined previous ones.

The Lung Association air condition The report also found that 72 million people of color live in counties that received at least a failing grade for ozone and particulate pollution.

More than 14 million people live in areas where health officials gave all three measures failing grades.

The report examines America’s exposure to two types of air pollution: ozone, also known as smog, and particulate pollution, commonly known as soot.

The American Lung Association has been publishing the state of the air for 23 years using data analyzed from official air quality monitors.

Officials have pushed the motto that the more you learn about the air you breathe, the more you can protect your health and take action to make the air cleaner and healthier.

“We saw much better air quality in most areas today than when we started the report.

But over the past five years, we’ve seen a slight increase, and we attribute a lot of that to climate change,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president of public policy for the American Lung Association.

“We had some of the hottest years on record, creating dry conditions that lead to drought and wildfires,” Billings said.

State of the Air 2022 shows an “unacceptable number of Americans still live in areas with poor air quality, which could impact their health,” said Harold Wimmer, president. National and CEO of the American Lung Association.

“More than 137 million Americans live in counties that had unhealthy levels of particulate or ozone pollution. Additionally, communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air.

The report also found that people of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing rating for at least one pollutant and 3.6 times more likely to live in a county with a rating. of failure for the three pollutants.

Other highlights of the report include:
• Some 72 million people of color live in counties that have received at least a failing grade for ozone and/or particulate pollution. More than 14 million people of color live in counties that received failing grades on all three measures, including nearly 10 million Hispanics.
• People living in poverty — More than 15.9 million people whose incomes meet the federal definition of poverty live in counties that have received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 2.6 million people living in poverty live in counties that do not meet the three measures.
• Children and Seniors — Some 31 million children under age 18 and nearly 21 million adults age 65 and older live in counties that have received an F for at least one pollutant. Nearly 4.7 million children and 2.8 million seniors live in counties that fail to meet all three measures.
People with underlying health conditions.
• Asthma—2.3 million children and nearly 10 million adults with asthma live in counties that have received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 320,000 children and 1.4 million adults with asthma live in counties where all three measures are not met.
• Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)—More than 6.1 million people with COPD live in counties that have received an F for at least one pollutant. Nearly 800,000 people with COPD live in counties that don’t meet all three measures.
• Lung cancer—More than 66,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018 live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. And 7,400 people diagnosed with lung cancer live in counties that don’t meet all three measures.
• Cardiovascular disease—More than 8 million people with cardiovascular disease live in counties that have received an F for at least one pollutant. More than a million people live in counties that do not meet the three measures.
• Pregnancy—The harmful effects of air pollution have been demonstrated for both pregnant women and the developing fetus. More than 1.5 million pregnancies were recorded in 2020 in counties that received at least an F for particulate pollution. Of those, 210,000 are in counties that received failing grades for all three measures.

The American Lung Association recommends that every federal agency, the White House, and Congress take immediate action to dramatically reduce air and climate pollution and drive an urgent nationwide transition to zero-emission transportation and electricity. .

They said 40% of the investments made to achieve these goals must improve air quality, health and life in underserved communities.

Additionally, local governments have the power to help ensure city and county operations are zero-emissions and residents can choose zero-emission modes of transportation and electricity, officials said.

The report’s authors noted that actions must benefit communities most affected by unhealthy air.

Additionally, officials said individuals can also take steps to protect themselves and their families from the dangers of air pollution.

“Regardless of its rating or ranking in this report, any community can experience days with unhealthy levels of air pollution,” the authors said.

Here are some precautions to reduce the risk:

• Check the daily air pollution forecast for your area on airnow.gov. Color-coded forecasts let you know when the air is unhealthy in your community. When the air is bad, move your exercise routines 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. Choose walking, cycling and public transport over gas-powered vehicles. Conserve electricity and buy your electricity from clean, non-combustion sources if you can. Do not burn wood, leaves or trash. Find out how to reduce your impact with our Stand Up For Clean Air initiative on Lung.org/air.

Julio V. Miller