Many Americans Live In Polluted Areas, New Report Shows

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Nearly half of all Americans live in areas with significant ozone and particulate pollution. Air pollution has gotten worse since Donald Trump took office. Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, his administration has stepped-up its ongoing assault on environmental protections that keep us safe and healthy.

Air pollution in some areas of the U.S. continues to worsen. The State of the Air 2020 report looked at pollution in cities across the U.S. from 2016 to 2018. Researchers found that more cities had days with high ozone and short-term particle pollution compared to 2015 to 2017. Many cities also had increased levels of year-round particle pollution. Millions more Americans live in communities with unhealthy levels of ozone and particle pollution.

Almost five in 10 people, 150 million Americans, or about 45.8 percent of the population, live in counties with ozone or particulate pollution. More than 20.8 million people, or 6.4 percent of all Americans, live in the 14 counties that failed in all three levels of pollution (ozone, short-term particle pollution, and year-round particle pollution). The 2020 report is the 21st annual release from the American Lung Association.

California leads the nation in air pollution

California cities rank high for all three types of air pollution. Los Angeles is the city with the worst ozone pollution, a ranking it has maintained for 20 of the 21-year history of the report. Bakersfield, CA is the city with the worst year-round particle pollution, while Fresno-Madera-Hanford has the worst short-term particle pollution. For ozone, there are seven California cities in the top 10, while there are six California cities for year-round particle pollution, and five for short-term particle pollution.

More than 90 percent of Californians breathe unhealthy levels of one or more types of air pollution during part of the year. The bad air most Californians breathe at least part of the time comes at a high cost to their health. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates that if just short-term particle pollution were reduced to “background levels” 7,200 premature deaths could be avoided, as well as 1,900 hospitalizations, and 5,200 emergency room visits.

Why isn’t air pollution in California getting better? For the past few years, wildfires in the summer and fall have increased and worsened in the state. As CARB points out, the state is experiencing “fires that burn larger and hotter on average than ever before.” A quarter of that state, 25 million acres, is classified as either under very high or extreme fire threat. Over 25 percent of the state’s population lives in those areas. Smoke from wildfires can travel long distances and into urban areas.

Climate change also plays a part in California’s bad air. The three years covered in the State of the Air report ranked among the five hottest years. Wildfires have increased as a result of climate change, which increases air pollution.

Trump’s environmental rollbacks worsen air pollution

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency temporarily suspended all enforcement of environmental regulations because of the COVID-19 pandemic at the end of March. The Trump administration has rolled back Obama era rules, including fuel efficiency standards, and tried to prevent California from keeping its more stringent standards. The administration has also revised parts of the Clean Air Act, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. “Harmful revisions and setbacks to key protections currently in place or required under the Act threaten to make air quality even worse in parts of the country,” according to the State of the Air report.

While the Trump administration continues to roll back environmental regulations, many Americans breathe in air that continues to worsen. Instead of draining the swamp, as Trump promised during his campaign, he is removing the protections people need to live in a clean environment. The real swamp is his administration and it seems to have no love for the clean air we need to breathe and thrive.


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