Unhealthy Air Pollution Levels Threaten Health of 47% of U.S. Population: Report

The highest levels of soot and smog were found in cities on the West Coast, while cities on the East Coast had much lower levels of unhealthy air pollution, the report found.

While air-polluting emissions from gas-powered vehicles, power plants, and manufacturing facilities have been reduced considerably in recent years, a recently released report on air quality throughout the United States suggests that “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air pollution remains a problem in cities nationwide, rising to worst levels in decades.

The 23rd annual “State of the Air” 2022 report was released by the American Lung Association this month, examining the levels of fine particles (soot) and ground-level ozone (smog) across the United States, and identifying areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

Data collected by federal, state, local, and tribal governments from official monitoring sites was used to calculate air quality values and assign grades that reflect the daily and long-term amounts of particle pollution, as well as the daily amounts of ground-level ozone in each area. Cities and counties across the nation were then ranked based on their assigned air pollution grades.

Though the Environmental Protection Agency monitors six air pollutants, the State of the Air report only focuses on smog and soot, which are considered two of the most widespread and dangerous air pollutants.

Smog is formed when sunlight hits nitrogen oxides released by car exhausts, coal power plants, and factory emissions; while soot is the byproduct formed during the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels like oil, natural gas, and wood. When inhaled, smog causes severe irritation of the airways and greatly increases the risk of heart and lung diseases. Soot, which can enter the body via the skin, eyes, inhalation, or ingestion, is the deadlier of the two; causing more premature deaths and lung cancer.

The report shows that nearly 140 million Americans reside in areas that have unhealthy levels of soot and smog. The West Coast, mainly California, has the worst short-term particulate matter pollution, with the highest levels detected in Fresno, California. The worst ozone levels in the country were found in Los Angeles.

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Past studies on the effects of air pollutants have revealed a direct correlation between poor air quality and the onset of illnesses from rheumatoid arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease. Fine particulate and carbon monoxide exposure has been shown to increase the risk of psoriasis flare-ups as well as the severity of the flare-ups when they occur.

Even developing infants can suffer ill effects from air pollutants. Researchers into the effects of air pollution on infants believe that in the United States, nearly 12,000 preterm births are caused by exposure to air pollution annually; with close to 6 million preterm births and 3 million underweight infants being born worldwide.

According to the study: those seeking areas with less air pollution should look toward the East Coast. Of the 25 cities with the best air quality, 14 of them are in the East.

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