Each year, millions of Americans suffer from adverse health impacts linked to air pollution, and tens of thousands have their lives cut short.
• Fine particulate matter from sources such as vehicles and power plants was responsible for an estimated 107,000 premature deaths in the U.S. in 2011.1
• Air pollution is linked to health problems including respiratory illness, heart attack, stroke, cancer and mental health problems. Research continues to reveal new health impacts. For example, maternal exposure to air pollution such as fine particulates (PM2.5) and ozone is associated with a higher risk of low birth weight, pre-term birth and stillbirth.2 For older adults, long-term exposure to particulate pollution has been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.3
• Air pollution’s effects are pronounced among vulnerable populations, including children, pregnant women and the elderly. Research has found that children exposed to particulate pollution can suffer from lung development problems and long-term harm to lung function.4
• Levels of air pollution that meet current federal air quality standards can be harmful to health, especially with prolonged exposure. Researchers can detect negative health impacts, such as increased premature deaths, for people exposed to pollution at levels the EPA considers “good” or “moderate.”5 Current federal standards are less stringent than those recommended by the World Health Organization.6 Moreover, the EPA cautions that unusually sensitive people may experience health effects at “moderate” levels. For these reasons, the analysis in this report includes air pollution at or above the level the EPA labels “moderate,” corresponding with a rating yellow or higher in its Air Quality Index.