People at Risk

With the risks from airborne pollution so great, the American Lung Association seeks to inform people who may be in danger. Many people are at greater risk because of their age or because they have asthma or other chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The following list identifies each at-risk group. Click on the list to find more about why these people face higher risk—and how many in each group lived where the air was unhealthy in 2009-2011.

Children and Teens

Children’s lungs are still developing until they reach maturity. Children and teens can be more active when they are outdoors, so they may inhale more pollution. Children face greater risk of infection, coughing and bronchitis from air pollution. They may even suffer from lower lung function, putting them at greater risk of lung disease as they age.

  • Nearly 32.3 million children under 18 years old live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant.
  • More than 6.2 million children live in counties failing all three tests.

To learn more about the health risks to children, go to Health Risks.
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People Age 65 and Older

Older adults are at increased risk from air pollution. As people age, their bodies become increasingly susceptible to the assault from dirty air. Studies have found older adults face a greater risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems after breathing ozone and particle pollution.

  • More than 15.8 million adults age 65 and over live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant.
  • More than 2.8 million seniors live in counties failing all three tests.

To learn more about the health risks to older adults, go to Health Risks.
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People with Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

People with lung diseases face greater risk from both ozone and particle pollution. Here are a few of the threats: shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks, and increased need for medical attention and admission to the emergency department or hospital. Breathing these pollutants can even kill—they can shorten life by months to years.

  • People with Asthma – Nearly 2.7 million children and over 8.7 million adults with asthma live in counties of the United States that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 460,000 children and over 1.5 million adults with asthma live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – More than 5.8 million people with COPD live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant.  More than 910,000 people with COPD live in counties failing all three tests.

To learn more about the health risks to people with lung disease, go to Health Risks.
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People with Cardiovascular Disease or Diabetes

Ozone or particle pollution can especially threaten the health of those with cardiovascular disease. People with diabetes face a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, putting them also at higher risk from particle pollution. Breathing particle pollution can kill. It can shorten life by months to years. Particle pollution can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and increase the need for medical attention, hospital admission and emergency department visits.

  • Cardiovascular Disease – More than 32.5 million people with cardiovascular diseases live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant; more than 5.6 million live in counties live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Diabetes – More than 4.2million people with diabetes live in counties that received an F for either short-term or year round particle pollution; more than 1.7 million live in counties live in counties failing both tests. Having diabetes increases the risk of harm from particle pollution.

To learn more about the health risks to people with cardiovascular disease or diabetes, go to Health Risks.
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People with Low Incomes

People who have lower incomes face greater risk from air pollution. Often they live closer to the sources of pollution, including near major highways or factories. Sometimes they are more likely to have diseases that put them at higher risk. This report uses the U.S. official definition of poverty to estimate the number of people who have low incomes.

  • Poverty – More than 20.2 million people with incomes meeting the federal poverty definition live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 4.5 million people in poverty live in counties failing all three tests. Evidence shows that people who have low incomes may face higher risk from air pollution. 

To learn more about the health risks to people with low incomes, go to Health Risks.
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