Almost 23 million Americans live in places that do not meet federal standards for pollutants such as soot and acid aerosols, the stuff that produces some of that haze in the air, the American Lung Assn. said Friday.
Those people--9.1% of the population in 16 counties nationwide, including smoggy Los Angeles and Denver--are at risk of respiratory diseases and other health problems from the pollutants, the association said.
“We can’t let our guard down in regard to air quality,” said Mary White, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which presented the study in its weekly report. “There’s still a great deal that needs to be done so that air quality doesn’t pose a health risk.”
The report looked at counties and cities that fail to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, comparing them to communities that meet the federal law and those that meet California’s standards. That state’s standards are the nation’s strictest for particulate air pollution.
Sources of particulate air pollution include diesel bus and truck emissions, factory and utility smokestacks, car exhaust, wood burning, mining and construction.
The lung association said such pollutants can impair lung function and seriously threaten the health of individuals with chronic respiratory illnesses, including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. The particulates also can shorten life, the association said.
Lung disease is the third leading cause of death in the United States.
The EPA standard for particulates is 150 micrograms per cubic meter of air. California’s standard is 51 micrograms.
The survey found that 1.9 million children with asthma, 3.5 million adults with asthma and 6.2 million people with chronic pulmonary disease live in the country’s most polluted areas. Nearly half of those with asthma live in counties where the particulate air pollution exceeds California limits, the study said.
About 45% of Americans, or 115 million, lived in 338 counties and cities that did not meet California standards for air pollutants in 1992, the association said. About 36%, or 92 million, lived in 322 counties and cities with levels below the federal limit but above the California standard.