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Smog, Soot, and Asthma

air pollution

How Air Pollution Threatens Our Health

In the United States, more than 40 percent of people live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Pollution from coal-fired power plants leads to smog (or ozone), a toxic compound and a dangerous irritant. Doctors liken inhaling smog to getting a sunburn on your lungs. It can cause chest pain, coughing, and breathing difficulties. It triggers asthma attacks, and it can lead to irreversible lung damage or even death. Smog exacerbates conditions like bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma—sometimes fatally.

Sierra Club Air Alerts allow you to better protect yourself and your family. Sign up to get alerts when an air quality alert is issued in your area.

Children are at the greatest health risk from air pollution because they are more likely to be active outdoors and their lungs are still developing. Asthma strikes nearly 1 out of every 10 school children in the United States and is the number-one health issue that causes kids to miss school. On “bad-air days” or “air alert days,” particularly during the warmer summer months, kids with asthma are forced to stay indoors to avoid aggravating their condition.

Meanwhile, soot pollution—a by-product from burning fossil fuels that results in small particles in the air composed of a mixture of metals, chemicals, and acid droplets—is one of the deadliest and most dangerous air pollutants. The smallest soot particles are less than one-thirtieth the width of a human hair. Because of its minuscule size, this fine particulate matter can travel deep into our lungs and even enter the bloodstream. Exposure to soot pollution is extremely dangerous and is linked to premature death, heart attacks, lung damage, and a variety of other significant health problems. Stronger soot standards could avoid up to 35,700 premature deaths, 23,290 visits to the emergency room, and 2.7 million days of missed work or school due to air pollution-caused ailments every year.

Continuing to allow high levels of coal pollution in our air could result in more than $100 billion in annual health costs.

But we don't have to continue down this path—there is a better way. Clean energy sources like wind and solar can protect our health and boost our economy. No one has ever had an asthma attack triggered by a solar panel. For more information on air pollution in your community, visit our Air Quality Map.