More than 141 million people in the United States — 43 percent of the population — live in places where they breathe unsafe air, according to a new report from the American Lung Association (ALA). That number is 7 million more than reported last year, and demonstrates the impact climate change is having on air quality and public health, scientists warn.
The three years covered by the State of the Air report, 2015-2017, were some of the hottest years on record. As temperatures rise and wildfires become more frequent and severe, smoke is increasingly driving unhealthy levels of pollution, the ALA noted. Ozone levels, or smog, and short-term particle pollution increased in many U.S. cities, particularly in the West; even year-round particle pollution worsened in some places. Eight cities recorded their highest number of days with unsafe spikes in particle pollution since monitoring began 20 years ago. Nearly 20.2 million people lived in counties with unsafe levels of all three air quality measures.
“We’re seeing in this year’s report the impacts of climate change on air quality in really stunning terms,” Paul Billings, a vice president for the ALA, told The Guardian.
Seven of the 10 cities with the most polluted air are in California, according to the ALA, with Los Angeles ranking in the top spot, its 19th time out of the 20 years the organization has produced the report.