CHICAGO – The 2022 “State of the Air” report, released today by the American Lung Association, finds that despite progress, an unacceptable number of Americans are still living in areas with poor air quality that could impact their health. Nearly 9 million more Americans are affected by deadly particle pollution than last year’s report; and the burden of air pollution is unevenly shared as communities of color continue to be disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air.
The Lung Association’s 23rd annual air quality “report card” tracks and grades Americans’ expo- sure to unhealthy levels of short-term spikes in particle pollution (also known as soot), annual particle pollution and ground-level ozone air pollution (also known as smog) over a three-year period.
“This year’s ‘State of the Air’ report shows an alarming number of people are living in areas with poor air quality that could impact their health. As a pulmonologist living in Southern California, I see first-hand the impacts of air pollution, and specifically particle pollution from wildfires, on my patients,” said Cedric “Jamie” Rutland, M.D., national volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association. “In addition, communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air. The report found that people of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one pollutant, and 3.6 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three pollutants, which means more asthma that can be life threatening in children and adults.”
The report continues to show long-term improvement in the nation’s air quality thanks to decades of work to reduce emissions. However, this has been partially offset by the negative impacts of hotter, drier conditions caused by climate change. Wildfires in the western U.S. were responsible for a sharp rise in particle pollution spikes in several states. Overall, the report finds that 2.1 million more Americans live in counties with unhealthy air than last year’s report, and exposure to deadly particle pollution has worsened. And people of color are also more likely to be living with one or more chronic conditions that make them more vulnerable to the health im- pact of air pollution, including asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
For the first time, the 2022 “State of the Air” report lists pregnant people as a population at high risk for health impacts from air pollution. More than 1.5 million pregnancies were recorded in 2020 in counties that received at least one F for particle pollution. Of those, 210,000 were in counties that received failing grades for all three measures. Adverse impacts from air pollution have been shown both for those who are pregnant as well as for the developing fetus. Exposure to both ozone and particle pollution during pregnancy is strongly associated with premature birth, low birth weight and stillbirth. These risks are amplified in pregnancies where the mother is already at higher risk, such as people of color and those with chronic conditions, especially asthma.
The addition of 2020 data to the 2022 “State of the Air” report gives a first look at air quality trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the shutdowns in early 2020, there was no obvious improvement. It found more days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the two-decade history of this report.
The American Lung Association calls on the Biden administration to strengthen the national limits on short-term and year-round particulate matter air pollution. Stronger standards will educate the public about air pollution levels that threaten their health and drive the cleanup of polluting sources in communities across the country. The full report covers 2018-2020 and is available at Lung.org/SOTA.