How To Better Track, Interpret Air Quality Data

April 25, 2022
Kevin Kunzmann

Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, MD, MS, discusses key findings from the 2022 ALA State of the Air Report.

The 2022 American Lung Association (ALA) State of the Air Report, an annual report on national particulate matter and ozone-related climate health, showed increasing disparities in poor air quality exposure among Americans in differing regions of the country and among differing races and ethnicities.

Per the report this month, more than 63 million Americans lived in counties that received an “F,” or failing, grade for spikes in daily particle pollution from 2018 - 2020. All but 1 of the 25 worst cities for short-term particle pollution exposure was in the western half of the country, with California cities constituting more than half of the list.

Additionally, people of color were 3.6 times more likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all 3 grades of air pollutants than White people.

In an interview with HCPLive regarding the report, Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, MD, MS, pediatric pulmonologist and volunteer spokesperson for the ALA, discussed the clinical significance of these new climate health findings—from acute pulmonary events to long-term cardiovascular disease and lung cancer risks.

“We know that air pollution exposure not only leads to the development of asthma, but it’s a huge trigger of asthma exacerbations,” Lovinsky-Desir said. “We know that when air quality days are poor, children are more likely to have asthma attacks, they’re more likely to visit the emergency room or go to urgent care for their symptoms related to acute asthma.”

Lovinsky-Desit discussed the factors influencing the state of California air quality, which may be more multifactorial than people may know.

“I think there are a lot of sources of pollution that are coming (out of California), not only wildfires, but industries and vehicular emissions,” she said. “I think it’s true we need to think about the multitude of sources.”

Regarding the disparate effect of air quality among people of color, Lovinsky-Desir discussed how climate health issues goes beyond the need for lifestyle or work industry-related exposures.

“We have to name it—that systemic racism plays a role in the communities that people live in and the exposures that they experience in the communities that they live in,” she said.

Lovinsky-Desir also provided advice for individuals worried about daily exposure, noting that most smart phones come with free weather applications that allow users to track their area’s air quality index—which can be used to inform decisions as simple as when to take a walk in the park.

Not all the data from the 2022 report was disappointing; Lovinsky-Desir highlighted overall findings showing national and region-based improvements in air quality. While the matter may not immediately or directly affect every American, it is an increasingly concerning public health issue which warrants attention to available materials like the annual State of the Air.

“I think it’s challenging if you’re not experiencing the health impacts to really appreciate how that might have a longstanding influence on your overall health,” she said. “Thankfully, the State of the Air highlights that the Clean Air Act is working and air quality in general is improving, but we’re still seeing a lot of communities affected by rapid speaks or high short-term exposures.”


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