Much of the northeastern United States was choked last summer by thick smoke from wildfires in Canada, which led to the New York City disaster.since the 1960s. Such episodes, once mostly isolated, are becoming more common due to the impact of climate change, according to new research.
About 83 million Americans, or 1 in 4, are already exposed each year to air quality classified as “unhealthy” by the Air Quality Index (AQI), a number that could reach 125 million of people within a few decades, according to First Street. Foundation that analyzes climate risks. The unhealthy AQI level, colored red, means that outdoor activities can cause lung impairment in some people, including respiratory illnesses such as chest pain and cough.
The nation’s deteriorating air quality comes after decades of improvements through regulations such as the Clean Air Act of 1970, which strengthened federal rules on pollutants emitted by factories and automobiles. But the recent rise in poor air quality could be harder to combat because it is linked to global warming, with rising temperatures and drought causing more smoke-spewing wildfires, First Street said.
“More heart attacks”
At the same time, increases in poor air quality threaten to undo the health benefits resulting from stricter pollution regulations starting in the 1960s and harm the U.S. economy, said Jeremy Porter, Head of Climate Implications Research at First Street.
“We’re basically adding additional premature deaths, as well as additional heart attacks,” Porter told CBS MoneyWatch. “We are losing productivity in economic markets by also losing outdoor work days.”
There is already evidence that people are leaving some areas of the country with poorer air quality, contributing to what is effectively a redrawing of the country’s map from wildfires, floods and others. effects of climate change.
“We saw statistical signals early on in our own analysis that people are moving away from smoke from wildfires,” Porter said. “The downstream effect of people leaving is that property values start to suffer because the area becomes less attractive. And then as the area becomes less attractive, tax revenue is directly affected because property values properties decreases.”
Residents of California, Oregon and Washington are experiencing the greatest decline in air quality, in part due to wildfires in these regions. In California, air quality today is often in the “purple” and “brown” levels — considered very healthy or even dangerous — which was unheard of about 15 years ago, according to analysis by First Street. At the same time, the number of “green” days, considered healthy, has fallen by a third since 2010.
Yet the impact isn’t just being felt on the West Coast, First Street found.
“It’s become something that impacts the daily lives of people east of the Mississippi River,” Porter noted. In 2022,were “so serious that people were asked to evacuate their neighborhoods, which is pretty unheard of.”
The number of unhealthy AQI days is likely to increase in coming decades due to climate change, First Street predicts. Western states may be hardest hit, but Eastern states are not immune. Some pockets of the Southwest, particularly on the Florida-Georgia border, are already seeing an increase in the number of days with unhealthy AQI numbers.
Particles and ozone
Poor air quality is linked to increased particulate matter and ozone, which increase due to environmental changes including extreme heat, drought and wildfires. Particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, also known as PM2.5, are of particular concern because these tiny pollution particles can penetrate deep into your lungs, causing a range of health problems.
PM2.5 particles are increasing due to wildfires, whilethat tropospheric ozone is also exacerbated by increasingly devastating fires. Ozone levels can inflame your airways and increase your risk of asthma attacks, among other health problems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
While reversing climate change-related air pollution is difficult, it can help to at least know the risks and how to mitigate them, Porter said. First Street has a site called RiskFactor.com where you can enter your address and find out your flood, fire, wind and heat risks.
Individuals may also need to take steps to protect their health in the face of more days of poor air quality, he added.
“It’s very important to be able to prevent smoke from entering your home,” Porter said. “Things like making sure your windows are sealed, and something as simple as changing your HVAC filter can have a very big impact on the purity of the air inside your home.”
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