The “State of the Air” 2022 report finds that despite decades of progress on cleaning up sources of air pollution, more than 40% of Americans—over 137 million people—are living in places with failing grades for unhealthy levels of particle pollution or ozone. This is 2.1 million more people breathing unhealthy air compared to last year’s report. Nearly 9 million more people were impacted by daily spikes in deadly particle pollution than reported last year. In the three years covered by this report, Americans experienced more days of “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the two-decade history of “State of the Air." 

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More than 4 in 10 Americans live in places with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

The “State of the Air” report looks at two of the most widespread and dangerous air pollutants, fine particles and ozone. The air quality data used in the report is collected at official monitoring sites across the United States by the federal, state, local and Tribal governments. The Lung Association calculates values reflecting the air pollution problem and assigns grades for daily and long-term measures of particle pollution and daily measures of ozone. Those values are also used to rank cities (metropolitan areas) and counties. This year’s report presents data from 2018, 2019 and 2020, the most recent quality-assured nationwide air pollution data publicly available. See About This Report for more detail about the methodology for data collection and analysis. 

“State of the Air” 2022 is the 23rd edition of this annual report, which was first published in 2000. From the beginning, the findings in “State of the Air” have reflected the successes of the Clean Air Act, as emissions from transportation, power plants and manufacturing have been reduced. In recent years, however, the findings of the report have added to the evidence that a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health. The three years covered by “State of the Air” 2022 ranked among the seven hottest years on record globally. Spikes in particle pollution and high ozone days related to wildfires and extreme heat are putting millions more people at risk and adding challenges to the work that states and cities are doing across the nation to clean up air pollution. 

The combination of policy-driven reductions in emissions on the one hand and climate change-fueled increases in pollution on the other hand is resulting in a widening disparity between air quality in eastern and western states. Fifteen years ago, in the 2007 “State of the Air” report, 136 counties in 36 states got failing grades for spikes in particle pollution, including 31 counties in seven states west of the Rocky Mountains. In 2022, 96 counties in 15 states got failing grades for short-term particles, and 86 of them were in 11 western states. Historically urban, industrialized eastern and midwestern states like New Jersey, New York and Ohio, which in 2007 had 21 counties on the list between them, are now getting passing grades. A similar story can be told for annual particle pollution. In 2007, 73 counties in 18 states got failing grades for annual particle pollution, and all but eight counties in California and one in Montana were east of the Rockies. In 2022, all of the 21 counties that got a failing grade for annual particle pollution were in five western states. 

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People of color are 3.6 times more likely than white people to live in a county with 3 failing grades.

Again this year, “State of the Air” finds that the burden of living with unhealthy air is not shared equally. Close to 19.8 million people live in the 14 counties that failed all three measures. Of those, 14.1 million are people of color. People of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one pollutant, and 3.6 times as likely to live in a county with failing grades for all three pollutants. 

In “State of the Air” 2022, Fresno, California displaced Fairbanks, Alaska as the metropolitan area with the worst short-term particle pollution and Bakersfield, California continued in the most-polluted slot for year-round particle pollution for the third year in a row. Los Angeles remains the city with the worst ozone pollution in the nation, as it has for all but one of the 23 years tracked by the “State of the Air” report. 

More Findings

Ozone Trends

Exposure to unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution continues to make breathing difficult for millions of Americans.
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Short-Term Particle Pollution Trends

Many cities reached their highest number of days with unhealthy levels of particle pollution ever reported.
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Year-Round Particle Pollution Trends

More than 20.9 million people live where year-round particle pollution levels are worse than the national air quality limit.
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Populations at Risk

Some groups of people are especially vulnerable to illness and death from exposure to unhealthy levels of air pollution.
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Most Polluted Places

See the 25 most polluted cities and counties for ozone and particle pollution ranked.
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Cleanest Places to Live

Five cities rank on all three cleanest cities lists for ozone, year-round and short-term particle pollution.
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Recommendations for Action

We need action at every level to clean up air pollution and address climate change.
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Did You Know?

  1. More than four in ten Americans live where the air they breathe earned an F in “State of the Air” 2022.
  2. More than 137 million people live in counties that received an F for either ozone or particle pollution in “State of the Air” 2022.
  3. Close to 19.8 million people live in counties that got an F for all three air pollution measures in “State of the Air” 2022.
  4. Breathing ozone irritates the lungs, resulting in inflammation—as if there were a bad sunburn within the lungs.
  5. Breathing in particle pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer.
  6. Particle pollution can cause early death and heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits.
  7. Particles in air pollution can be smaller than 1/30th the diameter of a human hair. When you inhale them, they are small enough to get past the body's natural defenses.
  8. Ozone and particle pollution are both linked to increased risk of lower birth weight in newborns.
  9. If you live or work near a busy highway, traffic pollution may put you at greater risk of harm.
  10. People who work or exercise outside face increased risk from the effects of air pollution.
  11. Millions of people are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, including children, older adults and people with lung diseases such as asthma.
  12. People of color and those earning lower incomes are disproportionately affected by air pollution that puts them at higher risk for illness.
  13. Air pollution is a serious health threat. It can trigger asthma attacks, harm lung development in children, and even be deadly.
  14. You can protect yourself by checking the air quality forecasts in your community and avoiding exercising or working outdoors when unhealthy air is expected.
  15. Climate change enhances conditions for ozone pollution to form and makes it harder clean up communities where ozone levels are high.
  16. Climate change increases the risk of wildfires that spread particle pollution in the smoke.
  17. The Biden Administration has made bold commitments to improve air quality, especially in communities that have faced disproportionate levels of pollution. The Lung Association is advocating to make sure they are realized.
  18. The nation has the Clean Air Act to thank for decades of improvements in air quality. This landmark law has driven pollution reduction for 50 years.
  19. Cutting air pollution through the Clean Air Act was projected to prevent over 230,000 deaths and save nearly $2 trillion in 2020 alone.
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