According to the American Lung Association’s latest “State of the Air” report, the three years covered by the report (2018-2020) ranked among the seven hottest years on record globally. With June already having seen some of the hottest days in years in the St. Louis region and the prime of summer approaching – where warmer weather and stagnant air create conditions that make ozone more likely to form – the importance of keeping the region’s air clean remains at an all-time high.
While anyone who spends time outdoors where ozone pollution levels are high may be at risk, the health burden of air pollution is not evenly shared, as some groups of people are especially vulnerable to illness and death from their exposure. Research has shown that people of color are more likely to be exposed to air pollution and suffer harm to their health from breathing polluted air. Over the years, decision-makers have found it easier to place sources of pollution, such as power plants, industrial facilities, landfills and highways, in economically disadvantaged communities of color. The resulting disproportionate exposure to air pollution has contributed to high rates of emergency department visits for asthma and other diseases. Report findings revealed some 72 million people of color live in counties that received at least one failing grade for ozone and/or particle pollution, with over 14 million people of color living in counties that received failing grades on all three measures.
There’s also evidence that having low income or living in lower income areas puts people at increased risk from air pollution. People living in poverty are more likely to live in close proximity to sources of pollution since they have fewer resources to relocate than those with more financial security, as well as having less access to quality and affordable health care to provide relief to them when they get sick. In the U.S. alone, more than 15.9 million people with incomes meeting the federal poverty definition live in counties that received an “F” grade for at least one pollutant. Children, older adults and people living with chronic conditions – especially heart and lung disease – may also be physically more susceptible to the health impacts of air pollution than others.
To help keep area residents informed about ozone pollution levels in the region and how those levels can affect their health, the Clean Air Partnership releases color-coded, daily air quality forecasts during the summer months to let individuals know what the next day’s air quality is forecast to be and if they should alter their outdoor activities to minimize exposure to polluted air, particularly on orange or red ozone action days. Area residents can visit SwitchUpYourCommute.com to sign up to receive the daily air quality forecast via email or text and to learn more about alternative transportation options that extend beyond driving in single-occupancy vehicles. These include taking transit, carpooling, vanpooling, walking, biking or telecommuting, all of which positively impact the quality of air St. Louisans breathe!
For more information and a host of additional tips to beat the summer heat to help clear the air and protect human health, visit cleanair-stlouis.com, like the Clean Air Partnership on Facebook or follow @gatewaycleanair on Twitter.