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Air Pollution: America's Quiet Health Crisis

Updated: Mar 24

Air pollution occurs when hazardous substances or particles, typically from human-made or natural sources, mix with the air. Vehicle emissions, industrial emissions and toxins released by manufacturing and chemical plants are some examples of the human-made sources of these pollutants. Smoke from wildfires and methane are some of the natural emissions that also contribute to air pollution. 

Obviously, there are negative health effects that come from continuous exposure to harmful air toxins. People in areas contaminated with these pollutants are at a higher risk of developing respiratory diseases, heart diseases, cancers and cognitive decline, especially in older populations. Pregnant women, children and the elderly are considered to be the most vulnerable to air pollution.

In 2013, the World Health Organization classified air pollution as a human carcinogen. Although severe air pollution is not as common in the United States as it is in other countries, a report by the American Lung Association (ALA) said that about 135 million people in the country are breathing unhealthy air.

The quality of air in the United States has improved since the creation of the Clean Air Act and restrictions imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on industries, but people still suffer from it.  Studies have found that some communities are more at risk than others; the same report by the ALA found that poor and racial minority communities are disproportionately affected by this problem. 

Addressing this issue is complicated. Individual factories may adhere to regulations, releasing only the amount of emissions allowed. But when a community has multiple factories that release emissions and toxins at the same time, it accumulates. Further, communities that rely heavily on car transit are prone to especially poor air quality.

Reducing air pollution requires local and national efforts. Locally, communities with higher exposure to air pollution can install air monitoring stations that can keep track of what substances are being released into the air: their amounts and sources.  

Local governments can develop sustainable and clean forms of transportation to reduce the amount of vehicle emissions released. Accessible and affordable public transport is another solution, for it encourages people to reduce their personal vehicle emissions. 

Nationally, EPA regulations can be enforced more heavily in order to maintain good air quality and reduce industrial emissions, including a faster transition away from fossil fuels. Air quality is not something many Americans think of as being a problem, yet almost half of the population is exposed to air toxins that negatively impact their health.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Lee, Nathaniel. “135 Million Americans Are Breathing Unhealthy Air, American Lung Association Says.” CNBC, CNBC, 2 June 2021,

NIEHS. “Air Pollution and Your Health.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022,

WHO. “Health Consequences of Air Pollution on Populations.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, Nov. 2019,

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