Last month the American Lung Association (ALA) released its annual State of the Air report along with lists of the best and worst places in America to be someone who breathes. Cities making the most-polluted lists include Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Birmingham, while Honolulu and Santa Fe topped the charts for having the cleanest air in the country. You can plug in your home city and get your air report here.
There’s some good news: Our air quality is actually improving. Thanks to the 1970 Clean Air Act, significant progress has been made in the last few decades in achieving higher air quality standards in our cities. The reality check: Half of the American population lives in areas that have unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.
That means 154.5 million Americans are exposed to unhealthy air.
The findings from the ALA report represent particularly bad news for California. Eight of the ten cities listed with the worst ozone or smog are located in California, and six of the ten worst for particle pollution are also in the Golden State.
This month is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, so it seems right to shine some light on what these numbers mean when it comes to our health. In California alone, more than 3.7 million adults and 1.7 million children have been diagnosed with lifetime asthma, and since 1995 state totals for asthma cases have consistently surpassed the national average.
Each year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America dedicates the month of May to asthma awareness. Asthma currently affects more than 25 million Americans and more than 300 million people worldwide – and these numbers have been on the rise for decades. Recent studies conducted by the World Health Organization have linked 44% of the worldwide asthma burden with the environment, and in the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 30% of asthma exacerbations among children are related to environmental factors, contributing to an annual cost of $2 billion.
You can take action in your community this month by hosting an event to raise awareness about asthma and available management options. Take the opportunity to spread the word about the relationship between asthma and our changing environment. Check out Natural Resources Defense Council’s Asthma and Air Pollution online fact sheet for great info worth sharing.
But back to that silver lining! On the whole, State of the Air 2011 tells us that air quality is improving. Thanks to regulations set in motion by the Clean Air Act, the U.S. has made steady progress in cleaning up coal-fired plants and reducing emissions. And a recent report has even credited the Clean Air Act with adding 4-8 months to Americans’ life expectancy!
But with recent budget cuts hitting the EPA and state clean air agencies, it’s important to remember that this progress can easily be halted or even reversed. Despite popular support of the Clean Air Act, several members of congress have sought to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases and pollutants. And although many successes can be attributed to the law, the State of the Air report clearly shows that we still have a long way to go and many sources of pollution that remain unchecked.
Learn more about what’s at risk if industry pressures help restrict the EPA’s regulating power and find out what the EPA has accomplished since the passing of the Clean Air Act from EarthShare member NRDC. Also, for more on the Clean Air Act’s history, check out Environmental Defense Fund’s timeline and take action to support clean air and climate standards by contacting your representatives today!