(The Hill) – More than a third of Americans are exposed to potentially life-shortening air pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s (ALA) 2023 State of the Air report.
About 119.6 million Americans, or 36 percent of the population, live in areas the association assigned a failing grade to for particle or ozone pollution. This is a reduction of about 17.6 million people that were exposed to air pollution in 2022, with the ALA attributing the improvement primarily to success in reducing ozone pollution.
Despite this, the report found a record-high number of people living in counties with failing particle-pollution ratings, at just under 64 million.
There are major gaps in the data, predominantly for rural counties, as the majority of areas in the U.S. do not monitor data for the pollutants in question. About 264 million people, or around 79 percent of the U.S. population, live in the 922 counties covered by the data.
As in previous reports, the 2023 edition found already-vulnerable populations — around 64 million — are at particular risk from air pollution. Nearly 15 million people under poverty line live in counties with at least one failing grade, the report noted.
Children under 18 are also at greater risk, with 27 million living in counties receiving a failing grade for one or more pollutants. The same is true for 18 million adults over 65.
People who already have underlying health conditions are also at major risk — residents of counties receiving an F for one or more pollutants include nearly 8.7 million adults with asthma, 5 million people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 55,000 people with lung cancer, as well as 1.3 million pregnancies in 2021, according to the ALA.
The authors of the report are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to finalize stronger standards for ozone and particulate matter, echoing calls for a particulate matter standard of 8 micrograms per cubic meter annually.
“Not only will stronger standards drive cleanup of polluting sources nationwide, they will also mean that families across the country are better informed about when their local air quality may put their health at risk,” the report states.