Poor air quality can negatively affect everyone’s health. Pollution from traffic and building emissions, wildfires, manufacturing, fuel combustion, dust storms, agriculture, and more all contribute to an area’s air quality.
Some populations are at greater risk from the health impacts of air pollution. These include:
- People with chronic diseases (like asthma)
- Seniors and children
- People who are pregnant
- Communities of color
- People with low income or low wealth
Decades of discriminatory government policies caused certain areas to have worse air quality than others. For example, major roadways tend to be in low-income or minority communities, exposing these populations to higher concentrations of air pollution.
Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people in the United States are at a higher risk of developing asthma, having asthma emergencies, or even dying from asthma. There are several reasons why these groups have higher asthma rates. Higher exposure to air pollution is one factor. And poor air quality can make asthma worse and trigger asthma symptoms.1
When the primary burden of negative impacts from the environment falls on some groups of people but not others, this is called environmental injustice. And when we fight environmental injustice, we will achieve health equity.
Environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies,” according to the EPA.
Health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to reach their highest level of health.
Places near manufacturing plants and roadways with heavy traffic tend to have high rates of air pollution. This air pollution can include gases like ozone and air particles from smoke, pollen, and airborne dust. And many of these areas are becoming urban heat islands, making them hotter than surrounding rural areas. This also can increase air pollution.
If you live in an area with high air pollution, it helps to understand how air quality impacts your lungs. During Air Quality Awareness Week, visit the AirNow website for information on air quality. The daily topics include:
- Wildfires and smoke
- Asthma and your health
- Participatory science and sensors
- Environmental justice and air quality
- Air quality around the world
When the EPA’s AQI is “moderate” (yellow), this level of air pollution may bother some individuals with asthma (but not all). When the AQI is “unhealthy for sensitive groups” (orange), this level of air pollution may trigger symptoms in people with asthma. When the AQI is at “unhealthy” (red) levels or above, it impacts people with healthy lungs and people with asthma may have even more serious health effects.
You can also help improve air quality by advocating for laws that would lead to better air quality and promote health equity. Join our online community to get Advocacy Alerts about how you can help the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) advocate for health equity and better air quality.
1. The Links Between Air Pollution and Childhood Asthma. (2018, October 22). Epa.gov; United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/links-between-air-pollution-and-childhood-asthma