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Continuing the Fight for Clean and Healthy Air

Photo: Courtesy of Petter Rudwall

When it comes to reducing dangerous pollution in the air we breathe, the United States has come a long way, thanks primarily to the Clean Air Act adopted by Congress more than 40 years ago. Our nation has made impressive strides in cleaning up pollution from power plants, motor vehicles and fuels, and other industrial sources. Thanks also to strong leaders in California, the air is much less polluted today than it was a decade ago. The Golden State’s clean car rules have set the standard for the nation.

Room for improvement

This year, the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report found continued improvement in air quality in ozone and year-round particle pollution. The number of people exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution dropped to just over 125 million people, from more than 166 million in the years covered in the 2016 report. While it is heartening that the Clean Air Act is still successfully reducing U.S. pollution, 4 out of 10 Americans exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution is still far too many. 

Unfortunately, polluters and their allies in Washington, D.C., are working to weaken the Clean Air Act and interfere with the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to implement and enforce its public health protections. Some also want to preempt California’s clean car standards.

Climate change risks

Climate change is introducing new obstacles to our progress in the fight for healthy air. Intense heat waves and stagnant air intensified this summer’s ozone season in many places, while hotter temperatures and drought conditions have increased the frequency and intensity of wildfires that release more particle pollution into the air that blows across the land. Ozone and particle pollution can have serious health effects — including asthma attacks, heart attacks, stroke, respiratory and cardiovascular harm, and even death. Exposure to particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.

Government-led solution

The science is clear: Everyone is at risk from breathing air pollution, but some are especially vulnerable, including children, individuals living with lung diseases like asthma, and older adults. For these populations, it is especially important to limit exposure whenever possible. Checking air pollution levels daily and avoiding exposure to outdoor pollution during spikes can help, but these steps are not the solution. Instead, our nation must continue to reduce pollution from its sources. We must also take steps to combat climate change, in order to protect the progress we have made over the past 40 years from the impacts of warming temperatures.

The American Lung Association works hard to defeat efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act or undermine the protective standards the law provides. Defending the Clean Air Act is essential to ensure that all Americans have air that is safe and healthy to breathe. 

Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO, American Lung Association, [email protected]

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