Quantcast

U.S. Air Quality Is Headed the Wrong Way

Health + Wellness
Smog over Los Angeles. Westend61 / Getty Images

After four decades of improving air quality, the U.S. has started to take a step backwards, as the number of polluted days has ticked upwards over the last two years, the Associated Press reported.


Federal data shows there were 15 percent more days with unhealthy air over the U.S. in 2017 and 2018 than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, according to the AP. In that four-year span, Americans had the fewest number of polluted days since 1980.

President Trump has claimed that air quality is improving under his watch, saying earlier this month, "We have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it's gotten better since I'm president." Yet, the facts tell a different story.

World Health Organization data says otherwise. When looking at fine particulate matter, a key to air pollution, the U.S. ranks tenth in the world, well below several European countries, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, as the New York Times reported.

"We do not have the cleanest air and we have not crossed the finish line when it comes to pollution," said former Obama U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Chief Gina McCarthy, now director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, as the AP reported.

Fine particulate matter is especially relevant after the EPA rolled back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan Wednesday, as EcoWatch reported. Fine particulate matter is a byproduct of the burning that frequently comes from power plants, engine exhaust and wildfires. It is also hazardous to human health, leading to asthma and respiratory inflammation, and increasing the risk for lung cancer, heart attack and stroke, according to the New York Times.

Furthermore, EPA data found there were significantly more polluted days each year of Mr. Trump's than in any year of President Obama's second term, according to the AP. And the worst of the bad days jumped even more than the 15 percent rise in unhealthy air. On average, there were nearly 140 times, in 2017 and 2018, when a city's air pollution reached "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels with the air quality index greater than 200. That's more than two-and-a-half times the average of nearly 55 from 2013 to 2016, the AP reported.

"Today it feels like the future of our kids and our country is at stake," said McCarthy.

Federal regulations since the Clean Air Act of 1970 that limit the emissions of certain chemicals and soot from factories, cars, and trucks helped dramatically improve air quality. In fact, a recent study, found that air pollution related deaths fell by about 30 percent in the two decades between 1990 and 2010.

Yet, air pollution is still a scourge. EPA data says that more than 110,000 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the New York Times. And one recent study found that air pollution in the U.S. led to 107,000 premature deaths and cost the country $866 billion in 2011. Of the early deaths, 57 percent were caused by energy consumption — 28 percent were transportation related, 14 percent were from coal-fired and gas power plants, while 15 percent were caused by agricultural activities like manure storage, as CNN reported.

"Cars and trucks are much cleaner than they were, power plants are cleaner, industrial operations are cleaner," said Paul Billings, a representative of the American Lung Association, to the New York Times. "But cleaner air is not clean air."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Maximum heat indices expected in the continental U.S. on Saturday July 20. NOAA WPC

A dangerous heat wave is expected to boil much of the Central and Eastern U.S. beginning Wednesday, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who was appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1975, was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on May 29, 2012. MANDEL NGAN / AFP / GettyImages

John Paul Stevens, the retired Supreme Court Justice who wrote the opinion granting environmental agencies the power to regulate greenhouse gases, died Tuesday at the age of 99. His decision gave the U.S. government important legal tools for fighting the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signs the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule on June 19, replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that would have reduced coal-fired plant carbon emissions. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency / Twitter

By Elliott Negin

On July 8, President Trump hosted a White House event to unabashedly tout his truly abysmal environmental record. The following day, coincidentally, marked the one-year anniversary of Andrew Wheeler at the helm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), first as acting administrator and then as administrator after the Senate confirmed him in late February.

Read More Show Less
A timber sale in the Kaibab National Forest. Dyan Bone / Forest Service / Southwestern Region / Kaibab National Forest

By Tara Lohan

If you're a lover of wilderness, wildlife, the American West and the public lands on which they all depend, then journalist Christopher Ketcham's new book is required — if depressing — reading.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Somalians fight against hunger and lack of water due to drought as Turkish Ambassador to Somalia, Olgan Bekar (not seen) visits the a camp near the Mogadishu's rural side in Somalia on March 25, 2017. Sadak Mohamed / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

World hunger is on the rise for the third consecutive year after decades of decline, a new United Nations (UN) report says. The climate crisis ranks alongside conflict as the top cause of food shortages that force more than 821 million people worldwide to experience chronic hunger. That number includes more than 150 million children whose growth is stunted due to a lack of food.

Read More Show Less
Eduardo Velev cools off in the spray of a fire hydrant during a heatwave on July 1, 2018 in Philadelphia. Jessica Kourkounis / Getty Images

By Adrienne L. Hollis

Because extreme heat is one of the deadliest weather hazards we currently face, Union of Concerned Scientist's Killer Heat Report for the U.S. is the most important document I have read. It is a veritable wake up call for all of us. It is timely, eye-opening, transparent and factual and it deals with the stark reality of our future if we do not make changes quickly (think yesterday). It is important to ensure that we all understand it. Here are 10 terms that really help drive home the messages in the heat report and help us understand the ramifications of inaction.

Read More Show Less
Senator Graham returns after playing a round of golf with Trump on Oct. 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Ron Sachs – Pool / Getty Images

Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senate Republican who has been a close ally of Donald Trump, did not mince words last week on the climate crisis and what he thinks the president needs to do about it.

Read More Show Less