The nation’s air remains at unhealthy levels for millions of Americans, in part because of climate-change-driven wildfires, according to a report released Thursday by the American Lung Association.
The report, called State of the Air 2022, “shows that an unacceptable number of Americans are still living in areas with poor air quality that could impact their health,” Harold Wimmer, the association’s national president and CEO, said in a statement.
The 23rd annual report also shows there were more days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the two-decade history of the report.
In fact, despite some improvements in air quality over the past 50 years, about 137 million Americans continue to live with unhealthy levels of air pollution, the report found. “There are still far too many days of far too many people breathing polluted air,” Paul Billings, the national senior vice president for public policy at the lung association, told USA TODAY. The report deals with the two main types of air pollution: smog (also known as ground-level ozone) and soot (technically known as “particulate matter”).
Smog forms on warm, sunny days and is made worse by chemicals that exit vehicle tailpipes and power plant and industrial smokestacks. Warmer temperatures make ozone more likely to form. Ground-level ozone pollution is a powerful respiratory irritant whose effects have been likened to a “sunburn of the lung.” Soot pollution is deadlier and more of a health hazard than smog, causing more premature deaths and lung cancer, the lung association said. The report, which was based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, covers the years 2018, 2019 and 2020. The lung association said that regardless of the pandemic-related shutdowns in early 2020, there was no obvious improvement in air quality during that time.