Home Emergency Management News More Than Half of Americans Breathe Unhealthy, Polluted Air

More Than Half of Americans Breathe Unhealthy, Polluted Air

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166 million Americans at risk from polluted air

According to a recent study by the American Lung Association, more than half of the U.S. population is currently at risk from health effects of polluted air.

The American Lung Association published its 2016 "State of the Air" report, which revealed that 166 million Americans, about 52 percent of the total population, reside in regions that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution.

Because of air pollution, these at-risk Americans are also at risk to suffer from serious physical ailments like lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive issues.

Air quality actually improved

The "State of the Air" study annually analyzes both ozone pollution and particle pollution, and further analyzes particle pollution in two ways -- on an annual basis and on a short-term basis. According to the American Lung Association, short-term spikes in particle pollution worsened from the 2015 report to the 2016 report, while annual particle pollution data showed a lot of improvement. Additionally, ozone pollution decreased in the 2016 report, as well.

Short-term particle pollution

The report noted that short-term spikes in particle pollution largely worsened, and that spikes were often linked to drought and wildfires, which are likely connected to climate change.

Six of the ten regions most polluted by short-term particle pollution are in California:

Regions most polluted by short-term particle pollution:

  • Bakersfield, CA
  • Fresno-Madera, CA
  • Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA
  • Modesto-Merced, CA
  • Fairbanks, AK
  • Salt lake City-Provo-Orem, UT
  • Logan, Utah-Idaho
  • San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
  • Missoula, MT

Annual particle pollution

Annually, many cities showed improvement in particle pollution, which, according the American Lung Association, can be attributed to changes made with coal-fired power plants and diesel engines.

California dominated the list of areas polluted by annual particle pollution, accounting for seven of the ten worst regions.

Regions most polluted by annual particle pollution:

  • Bakersfield, CA
  • Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA
  • Fresno-Madera, CA
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
  • El Centro, CA
  • (tied) Modesto-Merced, CA
  • (tied) San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
  • Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, PA-OH-WV
  • Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA
  • Louisville-Jefferson, KY

Annual ozone pollution

Six cities reported the fewest unhealthy ozone days ever, while 15 other cities showed year-over-year improvement with ozone pollution. The American Lung Association attributed these improvements to cleaning up coal-fired power plants and vehicles.

A familiar theme, California dominated the list of most ozone-polluted regions.

Regions most polluted by ozone pollution:

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
  • Bakersfield, CA
  • Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA
  • Fresno-Madera, CA
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
  • Sacramento-Roseville, CA
  • Modesto-Merced, CA
  • Denver-Aurora, CO
  • Las Vegas-Henderson, NV
  • Fort Collins, CO

Matt Mills Matt Mills has been involved in various aspects of online media, both on the editorial side and on the technology side, for more than 16 years. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and is currently involved in multiple projects focused on innovation journalism.