Source: https://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/health-of-women-and-children/measure/air Last accessed 6/29/2022
U.S. Value: 8.3
Healthiest State: New Hampshire: 4.1
Least-healthy State: California: 12.6
Definition: Average exposure of the general public to particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less measured in micrograms per cubic meter
Data Source & Year(s): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2017-2019
Suggested Citation: America's Health Rankings analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, United Health Foundation, AmericasHealthRankings.org, accessed 2022.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Air pollution is associated with heart and lung problems and even premature death. Large pollutant particles in the air can cause irritation and discomfort, while small, fine pollutants from sources such as auto exhaust or power plants can penetrate deeply into lung tissue and enter the bloodstream. The environment is also impacted by air pollution, as particles are carried from one area to another. Examples include increasing acidification in lakes and streams and changing nutrient patterns in soil.
Exposure to fine particle air pollution, including from wildfires, has been linked to problems with respiratory and cardiovascular functions, including:
- Decreased lung function.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Heart attack.
- Early death in those suffering from heart disease or lung disease.
Air pollution of fine particulate matter originating from human activity was estimated to be responsible for 107,000 premature deaths in 2011. The same study found the cost to society was an estimated $886 billion. The United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reports the costs and benefits of federal regulations. OMB found that regulations issued between 2004 and 2014 to limit air pollution by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) generated between $157 billion and $777 billion (in 2010 dollars) in benefits to the U.S. economy, mainly by reducing the health risks of exposure to fine particulate matter.
WHO IS AFFECTED?
Certain populations are more susceptible to health risks from air pollution:
- Individuals with heart and respiratory conditions tend to experience more severe side effects from pollution.
- Older adults are more likely to be hospitalized because of high levels of air pollution.
- Children are more likely to have complications from air pollution due to developing lungs, high activity levels and high rates of asthma.
- Particulate pollution is associated with deaths among infants ages 28 days and older and increased NICU admissions.
There is evidence that certain populations are more likely to be exposed to air pollution:
- Adults living in urban areas compared with those living in rural areas.
- Racial and ethnic minorities have been found to have higher levels of air pollution exposure, particularly in neighborhoods with high levels of segregation. Another study reported neighborhood characteristics such as racial composition and level of residential segregation played a bigger role in explaining individual exposure to air pollution than individual race or income levels. Non-white individuals were also found to have been exposed to significantly higher concentrations of nitrous oxide emissions compared with white individuals.
Healthy People 2030 has an objective to reduce the number of days people are exposed to unhealthy air. Other goals focus on reducing toxic airborne emissions and increasing the use of alternative transportation modes for commuters.