Story at a glance

  • The American Lung Association released its 2021 State of the Air report.
  • It noted that western wildfires have contributed to increasing levels of air pollution.
  • People of color were also more likely to live in highly polluted areas.

About 40 percent of Americans are living in places with unhealthy air quality, according to the American Lung Association’s (ALA) most recent issue of its State of the Air report.

This amounts to more than 135 million people. It includes data from 2017 to 2019.

The report authors highlight that Americans of color are about three times more likely to consistently breathe polluted air than their white counterparts. They were up to 61 percent more likely than white Americans to live in a county with failing air quality grades. 

“More than four in ten Americans...are living in the 217 counties across the nation with monitors that are capturing unhealthy levels ozone or particle pollution,” the report reads. It focuses on tracking fine particulate matter in the air emitted from sources like transportation, manufacturing and power plants.


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High volumes of measured particulate matter are also related to extreme wildfires and heat. This comes as 2020 was the second-hottest year on record.

Researchers also added that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the effects of breathing high volumes of air pollution. Since COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, inhaling particulate matter has been linked to worsening outcomes of COVID-19 infections.

When ranking individual cities based on their air quality levels, Los Angeles was found to have the worst air pollution levels in the U.S. 

Other California cities and counties ranked poorly along with Los Angeles, including San Bernardino, Riverside, Kern, Tulare and Fresno. Western wildfires have largely been identified as the culprits behind the poor air quality characterizing western states. 

Harris County in Texas, Salt Lake in Utah, and Maricopa County in Arizona also made the list.

The cleanest counties include Burlington-South and Barre in Vermont; Charlottesville, Va.; Elmira-Corning, N.Y.; and Urban Honolulu.

People with underlying health conditions are also particularly vulnerable to the affects of poor air quality. Individuals with asthma, lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were identified as vulnerable demographics, along with smokers.


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Published on Apr 22, 2021