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Air pollution is one of the 5 major environmental issues plaguing America. As per the survey conducted by American Lung Association, nearly 135 million people breathe polluted air in the country. The report further states that 4 out of 10 American citizens live under polluted air.
Sunny California needs to improve its air quality as the top 12 most polluted U.S. cities are here.
The CEO of the American Lung Association stated, “This report shines a spotlight on the urgent need to curb climate change, clean up air pollution and advance environmental justice.”
Air quality has improved tremendously since the 1970s because of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act. However, as pointed out by the ALA survey, climatic change will make it harder to maintain air quality.
According to John Walke, the Clean Air Project director – “Most air pollution comes from energy use and production.” He further states that “Burning fossil fuels release gases and chemicals into the air.” This is a particularly harmful feedback loop since air pollution causes and exacerbates climate change.
The ALA report states that the USA deals with 2 main types of air pollution: smog and soot.
Smog, also recognized as ground-level ozone, is formed on sunny days. However, it is exacerbated by power plants, emissions from vehicles, and industrial smokestacks.
On the other hand, soot is the deadlier of the two types. It comprises tiny particles of solids or liquids in the atmosphere that contain pollutants like dirt, smoke, soot, and dust. Soot is also known as particulate matter and can cause lung cancer and premature death.
Apart from smog and soot, other hazardous air pollutants pose a severe risk. Some of these pollutants are deadly, even in small amounts. About 200 of them are regulated by law; some of the most common are mercury, dioxins, lead, and benzene.
Walke says, “These are also most often emitted during gas or coal combustion, incinerating, or—in the case of benzene—found in gasoline.” Benzene is especially a carcinogen as classified by the EPA. It can cause skin, eye, and lung irritation for short periods and blood disorders in the long run.
Dioxins are usually found in food, but they can also be found in the air in small amounts. It harms the nervous system, the immune system, the endocrine system, and reproductive functions.
Mercury damages the central nervous system. Lead can damage children’s brains and kidneys in large quantities, and even a tiny amount of exposure can negatively affect their I.Q. and learning ability.
Apart from these harmful elements, there is another category called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, simply known as PAH. It is the by-product of wildfire smoke and traffic exhaust. They have been found to cause large amounts of eye, lung, blood, and liver irritation, and even cancer.
One study found that the children of mothers exposed to PAHs during pregnancy had slower brain-processing speeds and more severe ADHD symptoms.
What’s more concerning is the fact that roughly 21 million people live in places with unhealthy levels of particulate pollution all year long. The report further noted that poor air quality disproportionately affects people and communities of color. It reports that “People of color are 3 times as likely to live in the most polluted places.”
Over the centuries, racist zoning policies and redlining practices have kept white neighborhoods away from polluting industries and traffic-clogged highways. Instead, the industries are nearer to communities of color, especially the poor working class. The people living in these regions breathe polluted air and suffer many health problems.
According to the World Economic Forum, poor air quality causes roughly $617 billion in damages to the U.S. every year. In addition, the EPA estimates that the U.S. spends about $65 billion a year to clean up the air.
One way to protect the air quality from deteriorating further is to ensure that the Clean Air Act remains intact. It must be enforced properly to improve air quality. Another most effective way to control air pollution is to move towards cleaner fuels.
It is better to switch over to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Furthermore, we can use electric cars and trucks to reduce gasoline consumption. This way, air pollution can be limited at the source and reduce global warming.
In fact, it is always better to have cleaner air than clean the air. That’s because cleaning the air is an expensive process.
A study commissioned by NRDC found that the annual benefits of cleaner air outweigh the costs of clean-air regulations by 32 times. Those benefits include up to 370,000 avoidable premature deaths, 189,000 fewer hospitalizations for cardiac and respiratory ailments, and a net economic benefit of up to $3.8 trillion for the U.S. economy every year.
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