Report: The West Is the Worst for Air Quality

Thanks to longer fire seasons and increasingly intense blazes, Western states are experiencing the nation’s worst air quality.

April 27, 2022, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Kylie Mohr describes the findings of a report from the American Lung Association that assesses air quality around the United States. “Its “State of the Air” analysis looks at two of the six outdoor air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act, including both short-term spikes and annual levels of particle pollution, and ground-level ozone air pollution, often known as smog.”

According to the report, “More days with ‘very unhealthy’ and ‘hazardous’ air quality were documented than ever before recorded in the report’s 20-year existence.”

Altogether, almost 9 million more people were exposed to unhealthy levels of particulate pollution compared to previous reports, in large part due to breathing in wildfire smoke.

Mohr explains, “Emissions from transportation and power plants have fallen drastically since the implementation of the 1970 Clean Air Act, a comprehensive federal law that regulates sources of emissions. But in recent years, climate change-fueled increases in pollution are increasing public health challenges.” Consequently, “The urban, industrialized Eastern and Midwestern states are now getting passing grades compared to 15 years ago, while Western states now dominate the charts.”

Air pollution doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. “The report also reiterates the fact that socioeconomic inequalities exacerbate environmental harms. People of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county failing in at least one pollutant category, and over three times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three kinds of pollution.”

To improve these conditions, “The American Lung Association would like to see the EPA strengthen its air-quality standards for particulate matter and ozone as a first step.” The article acknowledges that “While that won’t begin to eliminate the particulate matter coming from the West’s increasingly severe wildfires, or wholly mitigate the climate’s impact on ozone pollution, actions from the individual to federal level could help move the needle toward a vision of clear valleys, cityscapes and sunsets.”

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