Air Pollution Levels Rise Over the Last Two Years

Air pollution levels have gotten worse since 2016 as the last two years have seen an increase in small particulates affecting air quality. In 2018 alone, eroding air quality was linked to nearly 10,000 additional deaths in the US relative to the 2016 benchmark, the year in which small-particle pollution reached a two-decade low, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

Scientists believe there are multiple reasons for the spike in pollution, including increased use of natural gas, more people driving SUVs, and the increased number of forest fires throughout the country. Included in that list is the rollback of regulatory enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency. Clean Air Act enforcement actions fell in the first two years of the Trump administration, and last year, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler disbanded the expert academic panel that reviewed and advised the agency on its standards for small-particle air pollution. The committee has since convened independently, citing the need to keep the public fully informed of their work.

From 2009 to 2016, average levels of these particulates in the ambient air in the U.S. plummeted by 24.2 percent. From 2016 to 2018, average levels jumped by 5.5 percent. As a result of that increase, 4,900 Americans died prematurely in 2017, and 9,700 died prematurely in 2018, according to the government’s own estimates of the likely effects of exposure to fine particulate matter. From we read, “Eighty percent of the burden of air pollution is felt by the elderly, but its impacts can be felt across all ages. A study published earlier this year found that air pollution now kills more people than smoking and has been linked to a variety of health effects, including obesity, miscarriage, and autism.”

Photo credit: Environmental Protection Agency via The Washington Post