The 2022 State of the Air Report shares new information about air quality and air pollution in the U.S. Here, we summarize five notable findings from the State of the Air Report to help you make better informed decisions about indoor and outdoor air quality.
For 23 years, the American Lung Association® (ALA) has released an annual report on the state of air quality in different cities and regions nationwide. It focuses specifically on ozone and fine particulate matter, the two most harmful and common pollutants. This year’s report analyzes U.S. data from 2018, 2019 and 2020, and grades overall air quality based on three measures: ozone levels, year-round particle pollution and short-term (24-hour) particle pollution.
Increases in particle pollution during different times of day are common during events like morning and evening traffic, but extended spikes caused by wildfires and extreme heat worsened air quality for millions of people last year. In fact, Americans experienced more “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality days than any other year on record. These increases in bad air days have consequences—frequent exposure to particle pollution can lead to asthma attacks, lung inflammation and increase the risk of lung cancer or complications from respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.¹
Cities in Southern California took the first, second and third rankings for cities with the most ozone pollution and most year-round particle pollution. The only city outside of California ranked in the top three most polluted cities for ozone, year-round particle pollution or short-term particle pollution was Fairbanks, Alaska — ranked third worst for short-term particle pollution. Los Angeles remains the city with the worst ozone pollution in the nation, which it has for nearly every year tracked by the State of the Air Report.
A “failing grade” means a city has more than 3.2 recorded days with unhealthy, very unhealthy or hazardous air.³ Many of these places are coastal cities or in the western half of the country: in this year’s report, all of the 21 counties that got a failing grade for annual particle pollution were in five western states: California, Oregon, Arizona, Montana and Alaska.
Unlike the cities with the most polluted outdoor air, the places that earned top marks for clean air are distributed across the country: Altoona-Huntington, Pennsylvania, has the least ozone pollution; Cheyenne, Wyoming, has the least year-round particle pollution; and Asheville-Marion-Brevard, North Carolina, has the least short-term particle pollution. Traffic, government legislation and natural disasters can have more to do with air quality than geography, which may be why the cleanest cities tend to be more spread out than the polluted ones.²
People with asthma and COPD, the elderly and those who are pregnant are all at increased risk of developing adverse health effects caused by air pollution. However, the ALA also includes access to healthcare and psychosocial stress, or stress caused by specific social situations, as indicators for increased risk levels, no matter where you live.⁴
Want to read the full State of the Air Report? You can see how your city's air pollution compares to the cleanest and dirtiest cities here.