Freeways are peppered with hybrids, recycling is at an all-time high, and kids get as excited about Earth Day as they do for Halloween. On the surface, it seems like air quality in America should be pretty great these days, right?
Cue the sad trombone: A new report from the American Lung Association reveals that 138.5 million people, or about 44 percent of U.S. residents, live in areas so polluted that the air is actually dangerous to their health.
The report measure the levels of ozone pollution (aka smog) in each city and metropolitan area. There's a key difference to point out here between the ozone layer and ground level ozone. Though both types of ozone have the same chemical makeup, the ozone layer protects us from the sun's rays, while ground level ozone makes the brown hazy sludge we all recognize as smog.
Besides the annoying haze, smog can disrupt sensitive ecosystems and harm plants and wildlife.
Even if you don't care about the environmental impacts of pollution, the health risks are a big deal. Living in an area with unhealthy air quality puts you at a greater risk for everything from asthma and seasonal allergies, to cardiovascular diseases and premature death.
New research also found that air pollution can age the brain prematurely, making you more likely to suffer a stroke and have cognitive impairment.
The top 10 most polluted cities in the U.S.:
- Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.
- Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.
- Bakersfield, Calif.
- Fresno-Madera, Calif.
- Sacramento-Roseville, Calif.
- Houston-The Woodlands, Texas
- Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas-Okla.
- Modesto-Merced, Calif.
- Las Vegas-Henderson, Nev.-Ariz.
- Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.
This all might seem like pretty dismal news, but the report also noted that the overall rate of ozone pollution has actually decreased in the last three years.
These six cities, for instance, had with the least ozone pollution nationwide:
- Bismarck, N.D.
- Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, Fla.
- Elmira-Corning, N.Y.
- Fargo-Wahpeton, N.D.-Minn.
- Rapid City-Spearfish, S.D.
- Salinas, Calif.
Efforts to curb the emissions of cars, trucks, and industrial equipment seem to be behind this progress—though the American Lung Association said the government would need to act on a larger scale to really make a difference.
That doesn't mean that individuals can't support cleaner air, though. Carpooling or taking public transportation instead of driving, walking as much as possible, and cutting back on your energy usage can all shrink your personal carbon footprint.
Photo credit: traveljunction.com via Flickr