Clean Air Impacts

Air quality plays a major role in the health and wellbeing of humans and the climate.

Air pollution creates sick people and big medical expenses.

Exposure to air pollution is associated with numerous effects on human health, including pulmonary, cardiac, vascular, and neurological impairments. Pollutants can cause impaired lung function, shortness of breath, wheezing, asthma attacks and premature death.

For example, ground-level ozone is the nasty cousin of stratospheric ozone. Whereas stratospheric ozone (the “ozone layer”) protects plants and animals from ultraviolet radiation, ground-level ozone is a primary ingredient of smog.

Higher temperatures increase ground-level ozone production, thus climate change will intensify urban smog. Ozone is toxic at low concentrations and deadly at high concentrations. It bursts cell membranes in the lungs, and as cellular fluids build up, breathing becomes more rapid, shallow and painful. The elderly and children are especially vulnerable, and ozone can lead to lifelong damage as lungs stiffen and scar. Ozone also sensitizes the airways to irritants and other allergens. Elevated ozone levels mean more hospital admissions for asthma, respiratory disease and acute respiratory disorders.

Figure:Health Effects caused by Air Pollution
Image: Health Effects caused by
Air Pollution (Source: EPA)

Hospital visits and other treatments to air pollution-triggered illnesses come with a price tag. Asthma, for example, has an annual direct health care cost of approximately $15.6 billion; indirect costs (e.g. lost productivity) add another $5.1 billion, for a total of $20.7 billion dollars. Economic analyses have demonstrated that the economic benefits of updated clean air standards outweigh costs 30:1, making them an investment that we can all afford.

Power plants, large factories, and high-traffic roads are often placed in low-income and minority communities. People in these communities end up having higher rates of asthma, which leads to missed days of school, bad grades, and decreased graduation rates.Everyone deserves clean air, yet this environmental injustice is still apparent in the United States today.

Releasing pollutants into the air impacts the well-being of our environment.

Like humans, wildlife and the atmosphere also experience negative health impacts from air toxins.

Greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants are known to contribute to climate change, cause acid rain, and make fish unsafe to eat.

By reducing our use of coal, oil and natural gas, we can save thousands of lives and lessen the threat to human health from both climate change and air pollutants.

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