The State of Your Air: 5 Things You Should Know

BY ON April 30, 2015

Child standing in a field holding a pinwheel

Yesterday, the American Lung Association released its State of the Air report, which analyses air quality data from the past three years to give us a picture of air pollution in our country. This annual report provides essential, accessible information to Americans trying to understand what we breathe, whether our air quality is getting better or worse, and how our city or county stacks up. So what should you know about the state of your air?

1. Too many people breathe unhealthy air. More than 4 out of every 10 Americans live in communities with unhealthy air quality. 44% of Americans breathe air with harmful levels of smog or soot pollution, from power plants, oil and gas operations, cars, and other sources. Our air is significantly cleaner than it was when the Clean Air Act was first enacted in the 1970s. But we have so much more work to do to ensure that kids can grow up breathing clean air.

2. Air quality standards improve air quality. That’s a handy trick, right? It may sound obvious, but let’s say it again: strong pollution standards reduce air pollution. The State of the Air report shows that over time and overall, the levels of harmful air pollutants are declining in our country. This isn’t true everywhere and in all cases, but the general picture is that our regulatory system is working to protect our health – all while population, GDP, energy consumption, and vehicle miles traveled are on the rise.

3. Science leads the way. The report offers a summary of the science on how smog and soot affect your family’s health. These pollutants harm us by triggering asthma attacks, shortness of breath, coughing, respiratory infections, cardiovascular harm, and even lung cancer (in the case of particle pollution). As research continues on the health implications of air pollution, scientists see harmful impacts at lower and lower levels – levels previously considered safe. That’s why reevaluating, updating, and strengthening our national pollution standards to reflect the latest science is so important: As parents, we need to know the truth about whether the air is safe to breathe.

4. Cleaning up the air protects children. Children are especially at risk for adverse health impacts from air pollution. That’s because their lungs are still developing, and also because of behavioral factors like more time spent exercising outside. But what if you flipped that coin? If children are especially at risk from dirty air, does that also mean that they especially benefit from clean air? A recently published study, highlighted in the new State of the Air report, points to yes. That study, of hundreds of children in California, showed that children who breathe cleaner air have better lung function than similar children who breathe dirty air. That makes me so optimistic about what we can achieve, if we work together for cleaner air.

5. Fill in the blank. Last but not least, do this right now: Find out what your family is breathing. Use the State of the Air to learn how your city and county is rated. You may assume your kids breathe fresh air when they don’t. Or that your city has terrible air when in fact it’s on the cleanest cities list. Find out what’s happening, and talk about it in your community. Get the facts, and then raise your voice.


TOPICS: Air Pollution, Asthma, Children's Health, Pollution