The "State of the Air" 2021 report finds that despite some nationwide progress on cleaning up air pollution, more than 40% of Americans—over 135 million people—are living in places with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. The burden of living with unhealthy air is not shared equally. People of color are over three times more likely to be breathing the most polluted air than white people.
People of color are over three times more likely to be breathing the most polluted air than white people.
The "State of the Air" report looks at two of the most widespread and dangerous air pollutants, ozone and fine particulate matter. 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 ozone and daily and long-term measures of particle pollution. Those values are also used to rank cities (metropolitan areas) and counties. This year's report presents data from 2017, 2018 and 2019, the most recent quality-assured nationwide air pollution data publicly available.
"State of the Air" 2021 is the 22nd 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 now-50-year-old 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 COVID-19 pandemic has driven home to the world the preciousness of healthy lungs.1 New research shows that exposure to elevated levels of air pollution is linked to worse health outcomes from COVID-19, including higher death rates. As the nation continues to respond to the pandemic, reducing air pollution is critical for respiratory health now and in the future. The Lung Association will continue to champion the Clean Air Act and push for clean air, health equity and environmental justice for all.
More than four in ten Americans (41.1%–more than 135 million Americans) are living in the 217 counties across the nation with monitors that are capturing unhealthy levels ozone or particle pollution. This is 14.8 million fewer people breathing unhealthy air compared to last year's report, mostly from improved levels of ozone pollution. However, the threat of deadly particulate matter air pollution continues to worsen with each new edition of "State of the Air." This year’s report finds an increase of close to 1.1 million people living in areas with unhealthy levels of short-term particle pollution compared to last year's report.
Short-Term Particle Pollution Trends
Populations at Risk
Most Polluted Places
The “State of the Air” 2021 covers the years 2017, 2018 and 2019 and does not reflect any changes in activity patterns and air quality that may have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. That data will not be available until next year. More information about the relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 can be found in the Health Impacts of Air Pollution section.