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A Look Back at the Year of Air Pollution & Health

A year-long education and engagement campaign around the connections between air pollution, climate change and health

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When you think of air pollution, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it health? In January, the American Lung Association launched the "Year of Air Pollution & Health" to increase public understanding and engagement around the link between air pollution and climate change, and how they impact our health. Each month we focused on a different topic—from major pollution sources, to vulnerable populations, to steps everyone can take to protect the air we breathe. Let’s look back and see all that made 2019 both a celebration of the progress we’ve made in reducing harmful air pollution, and a call to action to remove remaining obstacles to healthy air for all.

January: The year kicked off with maybe the most important question of all, "Why Does Healthy Air Matter to You?" Knowing that air pollution and climate change have a very real and current impact on our health is the first step to understanding why it’s so important to do all we can to protect clean, healthy air. We highlighted personal stories of people who shared why healthy air means so much to them and why it should to you too! We also held a Twitter Storm in January to launch the Year of Air Pollution & Health, during which the official hashtag #HealthyAirForAll trended at #3 for all of the US. Many members of Congress engaged in the Twitter Storm, and CDC’s official account even participated.

February: Month two explored "Who Bears the Burden of Air Pollution?" and focused on groups that are disproportionately affected by unhealthy air, such as children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with asthma, COPD or heart disease. We also hosted a virtual screening and panel discussion of the short film “Asthma Alley,” which focuses on a neighborhood in the Bronx with poor air quality and exceptionally high rates of asthma. You can view the film and accompanying panel discussion on-demand by registering here.

March: "Where Does Air Pollution Come From?" was the theme in March, and we looked at major sources of harmful air pollution, including power plants, vehicle exhaust and even natural disasters, like wildfires. We also explained that climate change makes it harder to reduce pollution in the air we breathe because warmer temperatures can increase the levels of ozone, and more frequent and intense wildfires result in more particle pollution. We also published a series of blog posts related to sources of air pollution, including power plants, the transportation sector, and hospitals and health care systems.

April: April marked the release of the Lung Association’s 20th annual "State of the Air" report, which provided county grades and city rankings on air pollution levels across the country. This landmark report found that 1 in 4 Americans still live in areas where the air is unhealthy. Learn about air quality in your community here!

May: Timed to coincide with Asthma Awareness Month, we focused on how air pollution and climate change impact individuals with asthma and allergies in May. Worsening air quality and longer, more potent allergy seasons due to climate change threaten everyone's health, but those with asthma and allergies are at even greater risk. We hosted a webinar to help health professionals better understand the issue. You can view it here.

June: In June, we looked at "Impacts to Moms and Kids." Children face special risks from air pollution because their lungs are still growing and they are often more active outdoors. Research shows that pregnant women exposed to air pollution have an increased risk of preterm birth and are also at risk of delivering babies with lower birth weights. We highlighted the unique risks that children and pregnant women face from air pollution through our involvement with the United Nations’ World Environment Day on June 5. 2019’s World Environment Day theme was air pollution, and our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Albert Rizzo, spoke at the official UN World Environment Day Event in New York City, where he emphasized the need to reduce air pollution to protect kids and expecting mothers.

July: This month we explored the toll heat and ozone take on health. Dangerous ground-level ozone pollution (often called smog) is a common threat during the hot summer months, and generally forms in the atmosphere when gases from tailpipes, smokestacks and other sources come in contact with sunlight. Ozone is more likely to form in hot, stagnant air, which is why we often see spikes of ozone on hot days. As heat waves occurred throughout the country in July, we shared these tips to help people protect themselves and their families from ozone pollution.

August: In August, we looked at the dangerous pollution produced by the smoke from wildfires, including fine particle pollution. Exposure to high levels of particle pollution can increase the risk of heart disease and asthma attacks and can even lead to early death. Because smoke can travel long distances, wildfires not only harm air quality nearby, but can also impact places hundreds of miles away. Increasing temperatures from climate change are making wildfires more frequent and more severe. We hosted a briefing from NASA’s Air Quality and Health Program Manager on the health and air quality applications in the Applied Sciences Program of the NASA Earth Science Division. The briefing had a specific focus on the increase of wildfires and their contribution to particle pollution. You can watch the briefing here. These tips and tools can help you stay safe and healthy.

September:"Health Impacts of Extreme Storms" was the theme for September. We addressed health risks resulting from storms, ranging from the immediate danger due to flooding and destruction, to risks associated with cleaning up after storms. Climate change increases the risk of more frequent and intense extreme storms and higher storm surges due to sea level rise, resulting in threats to human health. We shared tips on how to best protect your health during and after a flood event, held two webinars on extreme storms for health and policy professionals, and urged the public to tell Congress to support legislation that protects our health from climate change.

October: October’s theme was supporting youth engagement in clean air and climate advocacy. Everyone's health is at risk from air pollution and climate change, but children and teens are even more vulnerable to these threats. We joined the Children's Environmental Health Network, the National Children's Campaign, and youth climate leaders to hold two events for the U.S. House and Senate that screened short films - "Asthma Alley" and "Words Have Power" - that focus on youth impacts and activism around clean air and climate change, along with discussion panels featuring youth climate leaders.

November: The focus in November was the risk posed to lung health by air pollution – especially for Americans with lung disease – and the opportunities to improve lung health by improving air quality. Each year, November is both National Lung Cancer Awareness month and National COPD Awareness month. Reducing air pollution is crucial to protecting people with lung diseases, like lung cancer and COPD, who are more vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution. Particle pollution can even cause lung cancer. A highlight of the month was the release of the Lung Association’s second annual “State of Lung Cancer” report.

December: We ended the year with a focus on ACTION! We encouraged everyone to speak up to protect the air we breathe by signing a petition to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw their harmful proposals to censor science. You can still make your voice heard and sign the petition if you haven’t already, and encourage others to do so as well!

The Year of Air Pollution & Health has concluded, but there is still work to be done to ensure healthy air for all.  Learn how you can join us and take action.

Curious about continued engagement opportunities to help protect healthy air next year? Stay tuned! 2020 is the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Air Act, and the American Lung Association is going to celebrate this landmark, lifesaving rule throughout the year. More to come!

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Related Topic: Healthy Air


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