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The“State of the Air” 2020 shows that too many people in the United States live where the air is unhealthy for them to breathe.

  • Nearly five in 10 people (45.8 percent) in the United States live in counties with unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Approximately 150 million Americans live in these 257 counties with unhealthful levels of either ozone or short-term or year-round particles.
  • The number has increased—again. This year’s report found 8.76 million more Americans living in counties with unhealthy air compared to last year’s report, and 15.9 million more Americans compared to the 2018 report. Fortunately, the total is still far below the 166 million in the years covered in the 2016 report (2012-2014).
  • Why? One big reason is climate change. Warmer weather, different rain patterns and major wildfires all contribute to continued challenges to long-term progress in reducing harmful air pollution under the Clean Air Act.
  • More than four in 10 (41.9 percent) of the people in the United States live in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution. More than 137 million people live in the 205 counties that earned an F for ozone in this year’s report, approximately 3 million more people than in last year’s report. 
  • Nearly one in six people (16.3 percent) in the United States—more than 53.3 million—live in an area with too many days with unhealthful levels of particle pollution. More people experienced those unhealthy spikes than in the last three reports. In the 2019 report, approximately 49.6 million people experienced too many unhealthy days; in the 2018 report, approximately 35.1 million people; and in the 2017 report, approximately 43 million people.
  • More than 21.2 million people (6.5 percent) suffered from unhealthy year-round levels of particle pollution in 2016-2018. These people live in 19 counties where the annual average concentration of particle pollution was too high. This population estimate is higher than the 20.5 million Americans living in 18 counties with unhealthy levels of year-round particle pollution reported in the 2019 report that covered 2015-2017.
  • 20.8 million people (6.4 percent) live in 14 counties with unhealthful levels of all three: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution in 2016-2018. This is over 600,000 more people living in the 12 US counties with unhealthy levels for all three measures than in the 2019 report that covered 2015-2017.  

Many people are at greater risk because of their age; because they have asthma or other chronic lung disease or cardiovascular disease; because they have ever smoked; because they belong to communities of color or because they have low socioeconomic status. With the risks from airborne pollution being so great, the Lung Association seeks to inform people who may be in danger. The following list identifies the numbers of people in each at-risk group.

  • Older and Younger – Nearly 22 million adults age 65 and over and 34.2 million children under age 18 live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 2.8 million seniors and 5 million children live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Asthma – 2.5 million children and 10.6 million adults with asthma live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 316,000 children and nearly 1.4 million adults with asthma live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – Nearly 7 million people with COPD live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 750,000 people with COPD live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Lung Cancer—More than 77,000 people were diagnosed with lung cancer and live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. Nearly 8,400 people were diagnosed with lung cancer and live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Cardiovascular Disease – More than 9.3 million people with cardiovascular diseases live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. Over 1 million people live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Poverty – Evidence shows that people who have low incomes may face higher risk from air pollution. More than 18.7 million people with incomes meeting the federal poverty definition live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. More than 3 million people in poverty live in counties failing all three tests.
  • Communities of Color – Studies have found that Hispanics, Asians, American Indians/Alaska Natives and especially African Americans experienced higher risks of harm, including premature death, from exposure to air pollution. Approximately 74 million people of color live in counties that received at least one failing grade for ozone and/or particle pollution. Over 14 million people of color live in counties that received failing grades on all three measures.
  • People Who Have Ever Smoked – There is some recent evidence suggesting that people who have a history of smoking are at greater risk of premature death and of lung cancer when subjected to long-term exposure to fine particle pollution.  Over 14.3 million Americans who have ever smoked live in counties that received at least one F for particle pollution. Of those, some 5.5 million people live in counties that received failing grades for all three pollutants.

Did You Know?

  1. Nearly 5 out of 10 people live where the air they breathe earned an F in State of the Air 2020.
  2. 150 million people live in counties that received an F for either ozone or particle pollution in State of the Air 2020.
  3. More than 20.8 million people live in counties that got an F for all three air pollution measures in State of the Air 2020.
  4. Breathing ozone irritates the lungs, resulting in something like a bad sunburn within the lungs.
  5. Breathing in particle pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
  6. Particle pollution can also cause early death and heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for people with asthma and cardiovascular disease.
  7. Particles are smaller than 1/30th the diameter of a human hair. When you inhale them, they are small enough to get past the body's natural defenses.
  8. Ozone and particle pollution are both linked to increased risk of lower birth weight in newborns.
  9. Do you live near, or work on or near a busy highway? Pollution from the traffic may put you at greater risk of harm.
  10. People who work or exercise outside face increased risk from the effects of air pollution.
  11. Millions of people are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, including infants, older adults and people with lung diseases like asthma.
  12. People of color and those earning lower incomes are often disproportionately affected by air pollution that put them at higher risk for illnesses.
  13. Air pollution is a serious health threat. It can trigger asthma attacks, harm lung development in children, and can even be deadly.
  14. You can protect your family by checking the air quality forecasts in your community and avoiding exercising or working outdoors when the unhealthy air is expected.
  15. Climate change enhances conditions for ozone to form and makes it harder to keep ozone from forming.
  16. Climate change increases the risk of wildfires that spread particle pollution and ozone in the smoke.
  17. This Administration is trying to roll back or create loopholes in core healthy air protections under the Clean Air Act. The Lung Association opposes these actions that will add pollution to the air we breathe.
  18. Cutting air pollution through the Clean Air Act will prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020.
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