New report: 108 million Americans live in areas that experienced at least 100 days of polluted air in 2018

Media Contacts
Josh Chetwynd

Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

The most recent data shows there is ‘trouble in the air’

U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center

PHILADELPHIA –  One-third of all Americans live in areas that suffered through at least 100 days of poor air quality due to air pollution in 2018, according to a new report by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group. Statistics from 2018 represent the most recent data available. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the United States. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, both of which are harmful pollutants emitted by burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, natural gas and other sources such as wildfires. 

“Our air might not be clear, but the urgency for bold action is,” said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Transportation campaign director. “No one should experience a single day of dirty air, but to get there we need a major shift in our priorities. Transportation is a major culprit here. It’s time to get polluting cars and trucks off our roads and replace them with clean vehicles powered by renewable energy.”

Ten most populated metropolitan areas with more than 100 days of elevated air pollution in 2018 (PM2.5 refers to fine particulate pollution smaller than 2.5 micrometers)

Note: This count includes air pollution at or above the level the EPA labels “moderate,” indicated in yellow or worse in its Air Quality Index.

No region of the country is immune from this problem. In total, 89 large and small urban areas nationwide, plus 12 rural counties, had more than 100 days of poor air quality from elevated air pollution in 2018.

“Clean air is not a prescription any physician can write, yet it is a much needed treatment,” said Dr. Neelima Tummala, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “While the profound consequences on human health are alarming, what gives me hope is that studies show that improved air quality can mitigate these health effects.” 

Dr. Tummala pointed to studies showing that a long-term improvement in air quality can lead to improved lung function in children and decreased incidence of asthma.

The report’s troubling findings come at a time when the federal government is further endangering air quality by dismantling protections under the Clean Air Act.

“The data show that America’s existing air quality standards aren’t doing enough to protect our health,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, policy analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “As the climate warms, higher temperatures and more severe wildfires increase air pollution and the threat to human wellness.” 

The report calls on policymakers to reduce emissions from transportation, support clean renewable energy, and expand climate-friendly transportation options with more public transit, bike lanes and walkways.  The study also implores the federal government to strengthen ozone and particulate pollution standards, and support strong clean car standards rather than rolling them back

“Instead of undermining clean air protections, our government — at all levels — should be taking every opportunity to clean up the air we breathe,” said Morgan Folger, clean cars campaign director with Environment America Research & Policy Center. “Since transportation is the most polluting sector of our economy, we need to transition to electric cars, buses and transit. ”

Find the report on our website.