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New report finds millions of Americans affected by hazardous air quality: 'Everyone deserves to breathe clean air'

"We're talking about your own individual health; we're talking about the health of your family."

"We're talking about your own individual health; we're talking about the health of your family."

Photo Credit: iStock

A new report has revealed a concerning backslide in air quality in the United States. 

What's happening? 

The American Lung Association's 2024 State of the Air report found that nearly 40% of Americans live in areas with failing grades for particle pollution or ozone levels, with 11.7 million more people breathing unhealthy air than the previous year.

People of color were disproportionately impacted. The analysis found they were 2.3 times more likely to live in counties with failing air-quality grades in all three measurements, which include ozone and both short- and long-term particle pollution levels.

Why is this concerning? 

Christa Hasenkopf, director of the clean air program of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, told the Washington Post that cleaner air equals better health. 

Polluted air has been linked to problems like asthma, lung cancer, cognitive issues, and metabolic disorders. 

The Clean Air Act of 1970 has helped add around 1.4 years to American life expectancy, but Hasenkopf noted that reduced air quality could "chip away" at that.

"Everyone deserves to breathe clean air," Earthjustice attorney Marvin Brown IV told the Post. "We're talking about your own individual health; we're talking about the health of your family."

According to the American Lung Association, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires are key contributors to the higher levels of harmful particle pollution in the U.S

Extreme weather events like these have become more common and severe as a result of rising global temperatures, and dirty fuels like gas, coal, and oil generate the majority of the heat-trapping gases warming our planet. 

What is being done about this? 

In February, the Environmental Protection Agency announced stricter regulations surrounding passable air quality and said the projected health benefits include 4,500 avoided premature deaths and 800,000 avoided cases of asthma symptoms. 

While there are still areas with failing ozone grades, the American Lung Association found some good news, with 2.4 million fewer people living in those areas. 

"Controls placed on emissions have increasingly resulted in the replacement of more polluting engines, fuels, and industrial processes nationwide. The transition of the economy away from coal-fired power plants, the dirtiest fossil fuel, and towards clean renewable sources of energy, has unquestionably had an impact," the association wrote in its 2024 report.

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