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More than 4 in 10 Americans Breathe Unhealthy Air, People of Color 3 Times as Likely to Live in Most Polluted

More than 4 in 10 Americans Breathe Unhealthy Air, People of Color 3 Times as Likely to Live in Most Polluted
Posted By: Reggie Culpepper on April 21, 2021

American Lung Association’s ‘State of the Air’ report finds air quality worsened by climate change, remains environmental justice issue.

by The American Lung Association

A new report from the American Lung Association finds more than 4 in 10 people (135 million) in the U.S. live with polluted air, placing their health and lives at risk. The 22nd annual “State of the Air” report shows that people of color were 61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air than white people, and three times more likely to live in a county that failed all three air quality grades. While the report finds some improvements in the nation’s air quality, it is clear that in many parts of the country climate change is making air quality worse.

“As the 2021 ‘State of the Air’ report shows, communities of color continue to be disproportionately exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution, resulting in health issues such as asthma-related hospitalizations, heart attacks, strokes and even premature death,” said David Tom Cooke, M.D., FACS, chief of thoracic surgery at UC Davis and a volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association. “Everyone has a right to breathe clean air that won’t make them sick or shorten their life. Until our nation addresses this burden on our at-risk communities, especially many Black and Brown Americans, and ensures clean air for everyone, we will not be able to fully address the health inequities in our nation.”

This year’s “State of the Air” finds that climate change continues to make air pollution worse, with many western communities again experiencing record-breaking spikes in particle pollution largely due to smoke from wildfires. Changing climate patterns fuel wildfires, and also drive warmer temperatures that lead to more ground-level ozone pollution.



This degraded air quality threatens everyone, especially children, older adults, pregnant people, people of color and people living with a lung disease.

New research also shows that air pollution exposure can result in worse health outcomes from COVID-19. As the nation continues to respond to the pandemic and its disproportionate burden on hard-hit communities of color, reducing air pollution is critical for respiratory health now and in the future.

“This report shines a spotlight on the urgent need to curb climate change, clean up air pollution and advance environmental justice,” said American Lung Association President and CEO Harold Wimmer. “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.”

“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.”

Learn more about “State of the Air” at Lung.org/sota and sign the petition for the Biden Administration to promote clean air, a safe climate and environmental justice.

About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to champion clean air for all; to improve the quality of life for those with lung disease and their families; and to create a tobacco-free future. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

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