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Saturday, December 4, 2021

America’s Unhealthiest, Air Polluted Cities Put Many at Risk

by Kevin Seraaj, Orlando Advocate

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The American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report paints a dreary picture of the continuing negative environmental impacts this country have on the quality of breatheable air in our cities. According to the report, more than 40% of Americans are living with unhealthy air.

That statistic is predictably worse for blacks, who are 61% more likely than whites to live in an area where the air is unacceptably polluted, and three times more likely to live in a county where the already failing air-quality grades are continuing to fall. Environmental injustice continues.

Doubling down on air pollution is important. One hundred twenty-three million Americans live in an area with a failing grade for ozone pollution, including 28 million children and 18 million people age 65 and older. Former president Donald Trump’s 4-year reign of haphazard environmental policy-making did much to move the focus away from the bigger picture. Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said the report makes clear that we ignore the impact climate change has on the overall condition of air quality at our peril. Climate change, he says, contributes significantly to worsening air pollution around the country.

“This report shines a spotlight on the urgent need to curb climate change, clean up air pollution and advance environmental justice,” Wimmer said in an ALA news release. “The nation has a real opportunity to address all three at once — and to do that, we must center on health and health equity as we move away from combustion and fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.”

Changing climate patterns tend to increase temperatures that lead to more ozone pollution. Higher temperatures fuel wildfires. Poor air quality threatens everyone, but especially children, older adults and people living with a lung disease. Research suggests that air pollution can make COVID-19 worse.

“Too many people are breathing unhealthy air, and they are disproportionately likely to be people of color,” Wimmer said. “Join us in calling on President Biden to promote environmental justice by prioritizing historically burdened communities for pollution cleanup and to receive the benefits of investments in the transition to electric vehicles and clean, renewable electricity.”

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The 2021 “State of the Air” report analyzes U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data from 2017 to 2019 — three of the six hottest years ever recorded globally. It was released April 21.

For more on air pollution and health, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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