Driven by growing awareness of the harmful health effects of breathing polluted air, a number of countries have managed to improve their air quality over the last couple of decades. In the United States, the levels of six common pollutants — particles, ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide — dropped an average of 73 percent since the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970.
US Air Pollution On the Up Again?
Despite the progress made in recent decades, a new report from the American Lung Association indicates that levels of air pollution may be starting to climb again. The report found that 141 million Americans — nearly half the country’s population — live in counties with unhealthy air, a noticeable increase from the approximate 134 million in 2018.
According to the report, levels of short-term particulate pollution spiked across the West due in large part to the region’s rampant wildfires. Cities like Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, California, went from ranking among the cleanest cities for particulate matter (PM) to ranking among the most polluted. In addition to wildfires, changes in weather patterns and outdated diesel vehicles, equipment, and industrial facilities have compounded the problem and elevated PM levels in recent years.
But PM levels aren’t the only form of pollution on the rise — ozone is also climbing. According to the American Lung Association, the increase in ozone pollution is the result of warmer temperatures, which stimulate reactions in the atmosphere. In fact, around the globe, 2015, 2016, and 2017 were the warmest years on record. While warmer states like California and Texas dominate the list of the most ozone-polluted areas, many cities in the Midwest and Northeast aren’t far behind. That’s because ozone pollution has the power to move dynamically across state lines.
How People Can Make Informed Decisions with Air Quality Data
High ozone days and spikes in PM have put millions of individuals in the U.S. (and beyond) at risk. Even across Europe, where pollution improvement initiatives have been put into place, air pollution continues to exceed the limits set by the World Health Organization.
While pregnant women, children, the elderly, and asthma patients are most prone to health risks associated with air pollution, living in areas with poor air quality can also compromise the well-being of healthy individuals.
Real-time and hyper-local air quality data could benefit many of these individuals by enabling them to make more informed decisions, like choosing a home, choosing a time to enjoy outdoor activities, and knowing when it's time to change the filters on an air purification device.
We aim to bring this kind of air quality data to life, offering personalized insight into the quality of the air people are breathing on a street-by-street level through our air quality app, available on the Apple Store and Google Play. Our hope is that armed with this in-depth insight, people will feel empowered to enjoy more time out in the fresh air when it is safe to do so.