While it’s well known that poor air quality affects people with asthma and other lung-related conditions, they’re not the only ones who are impacted by the quality of the air. And while the Clean Air Act has helped improve air quality, it’s also recently taken a turn for the worse.
According to American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report, there have been improvements in America’s air quality over the past decades, but ozone readings have actually risen in the past year.
Currently, nearly half of all Americans live in areas where air pollution levels are unhealthy to breathe. Of the 314 million people living in the United States, 147.6 million breathe in unhealthy air – representing an increase of 16 million over last year.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 25 million Americans have asthma. People with asthma generally realize the results more often during the summer months when the ozone pollution is higher.
But unclean air affects more than people with breathing conditions.
Fetuses developing in the womb are also affected by the air their mothers are breathing, according to research at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The study involved 700 women and their children in New York City, with other research being conducted in Poland and China.
The research showed that certain women who had a higher exposure to air pollutants gave birth to children with lower birth weights and with a reduction in head circumference, which then correlated with poorer school performance. Their development was delayed and they scored lower on performance-marker tests.
Results were conclusive with research participants in Poland and China.
According to the research, during the years of the study where diesel fuel use decreased in New York City, school test results improved. In China, direct benefits were seen when a coal-burning power plant was shut down. When a toxic pesticide was banned from residential use in the same city, researchers were able to see that levels of pesticide in cord blood were dramatically lower.
While the reports all seem very negative, the positive is that society is becoming increasingly more concerned about the long-term effects of pollution. While it may be impractical to expect everyone to take on major pesticide producers, there are simple things you can do at home:
- Don’t smoke or allow others to smoke in your home.
- Reduce exposure to pesticides and cleaning supplies.
- Use low-VOC paints and sealers in your home.
- Wash all vegetables and fruit to remove chemicals.
- Use glass containers and stainless cookware.
If you’re looking to get involved on a larger, national scale, visit the Air Quality section of the Environmental Protection Agency.
If this information has helped you realize that clean air is vital to everyone’s health, consider sharing with family and friends who may benefit from it.