SACRAMENTO, CA – (April 21, 2022) –The 2022 “State of the Air” report, released today by the American Lung Association, finds that despite progress, California remains home to the most difficult air pollution challenges in the United States. New research finds California cities top the lists of those most polluted by unhealthy ozone, short-term particles and annual particle levels – and 98 percent of Californians live in a county impacted by poor air quality. The report also notes that climate change and resultant increased wildfires in particular – continue to make the job of improving air quality more difficult.
The “State of the Air” report is the Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” that tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution (also known as smog), annual particle pollution (also known as soot), and short-term spikes in particle pollution, over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2018-2020. The public can view the full report at Lung.org/sota.
“Nearly every Californian lives in a community impacted by poor air quality,” said Will Barrett, National Senior Director for Clean Air Advocacy for American Lung Association. “Californians know all too well that air pollution harms the health of all residents, but takes a particular toll on children, older adults, pregnant people and those living with chronic disease. Lower-income communities and communities of color also bear greater burdens and more must be done to support policies and investments to support clean air where it is so urgently needed.”
Ground-level Ozone Pollution in California
Six California cities made the Top Ten list for most unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. “State of the Air” ranked Los Angeles-Long Beach as the nation’s most polluted city for ozone pollution, which has been the case for all but one of the 23 years of the “State of the Air” report. While the Los Angeles-Long Beach area saw a big jump in unhealthy ozone days, Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego were among several California cities to see ozone reduced when compared to last year’s report.
“The transportation sector is the leading source of ozone-forming emissions in California,” said Mariela Ruacho, Clean Air Advocacy Manager with the American Lung Association. “Strong policies and targeted investments are essential to accelerate the transition of these engines to zero-emission for the health of Californians, especially for our most impacted communities. This includes providing an alternative to driving and moving forward with zero-emission technologies for passenger cars, school buses, and freight and retiring the oldest, dirtiest fleets.”
Wildfires Drive Increases in Particle Pollution in California
The addition of the 2020 wildfire season to the “State of the Air” report provides meaningful insights into the damage caused by increasingly devastating fire seasons in California. Dozens of California counties saw more particle pollution than in the report last year, and California cities again dominate the lists of most polluted by unhealthy particle pollution in “State of the Air” 2022. All but two California counties for which air quality data was available received a failing grade for short-term spikes in extremely dangerous, and potentially lethal, particle pollution.
“Wildfire smoke is a growing driver of Californians’ exposures to particle pollution as fires grow more frequent, intense and catastrophic,” said Will Barrett, National Senior Director for Clean Air Advocacy for American Lung Association. “Reducing the intensity and negative outcomes of these events through well-designed prescribed fire, public education, monitoring programs and other key strategies can help reduce harmful exposures.”
The Fresno-Madera-Hanford metro area ranks as the most polluted “city” in the country for short-term particle pollution in this year’s report. The 2022 “State of the Air” report also found that year-round particle pollution levels throughout much of California were higher compared to last year’s report, and Bakersfield again ranked as the most polluted American city for year-round particles.
The report found that nationwide, nearly 9 million more people were impacted by deadly particle pollution than reported last year. It also shows more days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the two-decade history of this report. Overall, more than 137 million Americans live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Further, communities of color remain disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air. The report found that 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.
The addition of 2020 data to the 2022 “State of the Air” report allows a first look at air quality trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite shutdowns that reduced travel in early 2020, there was no obvious improvement to air quality. In fact, throughout the pandemic the Los Angeles-Long Beach metro area has seen major increases in freight activities at the ports which are major contributors to regional and community-level air pollution.
The American Lung Association is calling on the Biden administration to strengthen national limits on both short-term and year-round particulate matter air pollution. Stronger standards will drive the cleanup of polluting sources in communities throughout the country while educating the public about air pollution levels that threaten public health. We urge the public to read the full report and sign the petition supporting stronger pollution standards at Lung.org/SOTA.