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At Boost Oxygen, we always like to post relevant articles and news about air quality and how it effects your health. We wanted to share this recent article published by USA Today about the current state of air pollution in the United States. You can visit the original article at this link:


air pollution

Report: U.S. air pollution worst in 25 years

Eduardo Cuevas

Americans are breathing more toxic air now than in the past quarter century, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

The findings released Wednesday show the worst toxic particle pollution in the 25 years the ALA has released its annual “State of the Air” report. The recent spike in pollution, experts say, is likely the result of climate change including the increase in wildfires. More than 131 million Americans lived in areas that showed unhealthy levels of air pollution, the report showed.

“We’re seeing the most days and the ‘very unhealthy’ or ‘hazardous’ air quality level due to spikes in particle pollution,” Paul Billings, ALA’s senior vice president of public policy, told USA TODAY. “Despite a lot of progress on air pollution cleanup, we’re seeing the impacts of climate change, particularly wildfires, overwhelming a lot of cleanup, particularly with respect to these daily spikes of particle pollution.”

The report looked at fine particulate matter, with daily and annual averages, and ozone pollution regulated under the Clean Air Act. The report found nearly 2 in 5 Americans live in areas that received a failing grade for at least one air pollution measure. Nearly 44 million people live in areas with failing grades for all air quality measures. The populations living amid the worst air quality are largely people of color, who also tend to have higher rates of chronic health issues such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease, making them especially vulnerable to air pollution.

Together, short-term and constant particle pollution contribute to tens of thousands of deaths annually, the report found. Respiratory issues, such as asthma attacks, can be triggered by high levels of short-term pollution, but longer-term exposure can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The communities with the best air quality included Bangor, Maine; Wilmington, North Carolina; and Honolulu. Except for Honolulu, most of the cities with the best air quality were majority white.

The report uses new Environmental Protection Agency rules finalized in February for annual fine particulate matter pollution that limits levels from 12 micrograms per cubic meter to nine. Experts said this better reflects health issues associated with this type of pollution.

“There is no safe level to particle pollution,” Dr. Kari Nadeau, the John Rock professor of climate and population studies at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told USA TODAY. “We were not meant to breathe this in as humans.”

Still, she added, the lower level of allowable particulate matter in the air, even though the limit was reduced by just three micrograms, will save lives and health costs. By 2032, it will amount to $46 billion in cost-savings and help the U.S. avoid 4,500 premature deaths, 800,000 cases for asthma, and 290,000 lost workdays, an EPA analysis found.

Meanwhile, the level of ozone, also known as smog, generally improved across the U.S., the report noted. Ozone is a pollutant driven by warmer temperatures, which climate change has exacerbated. Once in the air, it’s hard to remove. Exposure to ozone creates what the ALA describes as “sunburn” of the lungs. It triggers shortness of breath, coughing and asthma attacks and can shorten the lifespan of people exposed to it.

The western U.S. experienced the bulk of the pollution, due to pollution from roadways, agriculture, oil and gas industries and seemingly endless wildfires.

Communities like California’s San Joaquin Valley, long the nation’s agricultural heartland, continue to be overrepresented for taking in the worst pollution in the ALA report. The cities of Bakersfield, Fresno and Visalia – hubs for agricultural production, shipping and warehouses where the population is predominantly Latino – make up the top five cities in each of the report’s measures for 24-hour particle pollution, year-round particle pollution, and ground-level ozone pollution.

Gustavo Aguirre Jr., a Bakersfield resident who serves as associate director of climate and environmental justice at the nonprofit Central California Asthma Collaborative, said the numbers are not new to the community. He likened the air quality findings to ongoing reports of the region’s record numbers on drunk driving.

“We would not have a sober day,” he said, adding the area hasn’t seen clean days in decades. “For us, this is just a continuation of bad news.”

The collaborative, founded to help educate residents with asthma about health risks, has moved to provide updated air filtration systems to homes, as well as community air monitoring networks to give people a better sense of local air quality levels. The organization has also looked at shifting public policy to regulate burn days, when old orchards are burned and electrify big rigs that rely on diesel fuel, a key polluter on the main highways that bring agriculture from the massive valley to the cities its north and south.

The region also faces unique challenges due to its inland location, since pollution from the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles travels to the valley where it becomes trapped. Wildfires throughout California contribute to the problem. Efforts to reduce pollution levels over many years in the region appear not to have saved people in the San Joaquin Valley from particulate matter.

“A lot of people feel at this point that there’s not much that they can do to address it or change it,” said Sarah Sharpe, a Fresno resident who is the collaborative’s deputy executive director. “It’s just kind of a state of where we either have to live, or we choose to live.”

Dr. John Balmes, a professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine who provided an academic review on the report’s health section, acknowledged there have been improvements in air quality. Ozone levels have declined in some places. But much of the progress has been wiped out by wildfire smoke and related effects of climate change.

“The same pollutants that affect our health also contribute to climate change,” he said.

The pollutants increase the risk of cardiovascular issues such as heart failure and arrhythmia, as well as respiratory issues such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Breathing in high levels of particulate matter in the long term has been linked to brain damage that puts people at higher risk of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias.

The report only used data from 2020 to 2022. It did not include the impact of the historic wildfires across Canada in 2023 that choked many eastern U.S. cities, turning skies orange. These circumstances were thought to be unique to the West Coast fire seasons.

The wildfires in Canada awakened New Yorkers to toxic air quality levels Black and Latino residents in the South Bronx already knew well. Apartments in the South Bronx sit near several intersecting freeways, power plants and waste management facilities that create some of the worst air quality in the region. Before the wildfires, the South Bronx had some of the highest asthma rates in the U.S. And now things are worse.

“Our community is suffocating on a daily basis,” Leslie Vasquez, clean air project organizer for the environmental justice nonprofit South Bronx Unite, said. “When they go home, that air is also breathed in on a daily basis.”

The group has installed dozens of air monitors across the South Bronx to record pollution levels and the wind, heat and humidity that contribute to people getting sick from pollutants. Combined heat and humidity, especially during the summer, can trigger additional deaths as temperatures and severe weather increase due to climate change.