Each year, the American Lung Association (ALA) analyzes data from official air quality monitors across the country to inform its State of the Air report, a snapshot of the air you breathe daily. Get the scoop on this year’s findings to learn how you and your family are affected.
ALA’s yearly report looks at America’s two most common and potentially deadly air pollutants: ozone pollution and particle pollution, both of which can cause asthma attacks, developmental and reproductive harm, and lung cancer, among other things.
The ALA explains that ozone, aka smog, is the most widespread pollutant in the U.S., as well as one of the most deadly. Worse yet, it’s invisible. Ozone smog develops when the gases that come out of tailpipes, smokestacks and more react with sunlight. When breathed, it reacts chemically with lung tissue*.
Particle pollution is made up of microscopic liquid and solid particles that together form a visible haze, according to the ALA**. They can get trapped in the lungs and transfer to the bloodstream. They come from various chemical and mechanical processes, such as construction, agriculture, mining and burning fossil fuels in plants, cars, mills and more.
The 2017 report captured trends from 2013 to 2015, and overall, air quality improved in ozone and year-round particle pollution. Much of this credit goes to cleaner power plants and the increased use of cleaner vehicles and engines. Last year’s report found 166 million people were exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution—this year, it dropped to approximately 125 million. That means one-quarter fewer people are now living in areas with unhealthy air quality levels**.
While improvement continues, the ALA stresses that there has been an “unrelenting increase in dangerous spikes in particle pollution**.” Cities reporting their worst short-term particle episodes were mostly located in the western part of the country. Regional differences can also be attributed to smoke from wildfires (which have increased due to drought and a warmer climate), brushfires and wood-burning devices***.
The cleanest cities in the country were found in Vermont, Florida, New York, Hawaii and North Carolina****.
Believe it or not, these findings also reveal a lot about the air you breathe at home. Dangerous outdoor air can find its way inside through open doors and windows, ventilation systems, cracks and more. And bad outdoor air can also take away your ability to effectively banish dangerous indoor air pollutants created by cooking, cleaning, building materials and more.
Of course, breathing polluted air is bad for everyone. Those at heightened risk include children and teens, those 65 or older, people with cardiovascular disease, those who work or exercise outdoors and people with COPD, asthma, chronic bronchitis and other lung diseases*****.
Find your state’s ALA report card and more ideas about what you can do to protect your air at StateOfTheAir.org.