Air pollution has risen alarmingly fast over the past two years in the United States, following prolific regulatory rollbacks by the Trump administration, according to new data released by the Environmental Air Pollution.
Measurements of three of six dangerous air pollutants have surged compared to 2016 levels, according to the EPA report. Those pollutants — ozone, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter — collectively kill tens of thousands of people across the US each year.
Particulate matter refers to tiny particles that can easily penetrate a person’s lungs, and enter the bloodstream, causing damage to every part of the body. Ozone, meanwhile, is a gaseous molecule that primarily harms the lungs when breathed in, and nitrous oxide is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels.
All three of these pollutants primarily come from industrial activity, vehicle exhaust, construction, and chemical facilities — all of which have been heavily deregulated under the Trump administration. In fact, more than 83 environmental regulations have been scrapped by the Trump administration, other rules have been weakened, and the EPA has significantly reduced its enforcement of other regulations.
In addition to the general rise in hazardous airborne particles, major cities are experiencing far more “unhealthy air days,” according to the Atlantic. In 2018, 799 of these days were reported, compared to 702 in 2016, a 14% rise. Unhealthy air days can cause extensive health problems for people, triggering heart and lung diseases, and are especially harmful to vulnerable populations.
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Then there’s carbon dioxide. Although the US had pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration vowed to leave the pact after taking office, and US emissions have since surged. As greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide collect in the atmosphere, they trap more heat from the sun and warm up the planet, which poses a range of health threats.
The decline in US air quality is likely to continue, especially if the Trump administration exceeds in weakening car efficiency standards that had been created by the Obama administration, according to the Atlantic.
The health consequences of contaminated air are hard to overstate. Air pollution can lead to asthma attacks, strokes, and heart disease. It harms a person’s intelligence, leads to depression, and degrades essentially every cell in a person’s body.
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Although the findings by the EPA are alarming, they haven’t spurred action on the federal level. In fact, President Trump gave a speech on Monday that celebrated US air quality.
“From day one, my administration has made it a top priority to ensure that America has among the very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet,” he said. “We want the cleanest air.”