Air pollution is harming public health
People across the Interior West are subjected to climate pollution that dramatically worsens air quality. Emissions from power plants, mines, refineries, gas-powered vehicles, homes, and other sources don’t just contribute to climate change, they threaten public health. They can cause early death, asthma, cancer, heart attacks, birth defects, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other adverse health impacts. One, particularly concerning contaminant in our region is fine particulate matter or PM2.5. Communities across the West – including in Adams, Weld, and Denver counties in Colorado and Maricopa and Pinal counties in Arizona – breathe in dangerous levels of this pollutant, putting them at risk of premature death and disease. To ensure cities and towns can thrive, we must clean up our air.
Ozone levels are rising
Ozone levels are going up in the Interior West, putting the health of communities and individuals at risk. According to the American Lung Association’s 2022 State of the Air Report, 60% of the population of the Interior West lives in places with dangerous ozone levels. This pollution attacks the lungs and throat, and even short-term exposure can lead to shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing, asthma attacks, and lung damage. Long-term exposure increases the risk of premature death in older adults, leads to more hospital admissions for children with asthma, and leads to low birth weight, stillbirth, and decreased lung function in newborns. As our region faces the climate crisis and rising temperatures, it’s essential that we reduce emissions right now.
Wildfires are threatening clean air
Climate change is continuing to dry out the Interior West, leading to catastrophic wildfires that have become a year-round threat for towns and cities across the West. The smoke from these fires can darken the sky and make it uncomfortable or dangerous to take a breath outside. Even more concerningly, this smoke, which is primarily comprised of PM2.5, can put an individual’s health at risk. In addition to being harmful on its own, it adds to the already unhealthy levels of air pollution with which many Western communities struggle — notably Denver, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City. To address this threat to our air quality, we can fight climate change, the root cause of these worsening fires, and advance wildfire mitigation strategies that lessen the likelihood of catastrophic wildfire, such as prescribed burns.