Air Quality

Our Changing Air Quality 

Car with exhaust

Climate change can lead to a reduction in air quality for several reasons. Warmer temperatures increase the production of ground-level ozone, a key component in smog. On hot days, the combined effects of ground-level ozone, increased fossil fuel burning to run air conditioning, and stagnant air decrease air quality, causing adverse impacts to our health.

Person sneezing

Warmer temperatures lead to a longer allergy season. Species such as ragweed will continue to release their pollen later into the year as the first fall frost moves later and later.

mold

Warmer and wetter conditions can make it easier for mold to grow and spread, which can worsen indoor air quality and lead to illnesses.
 

Particularly small particles (known as PM2.5 because their diameter is less than two and a half millionths of a meter) can stay suspended in the air longer because of their small size. These small particles can be easily breathed in and get into our lungs, exacerbating asthma, lung infections, and cardiovascular disease.

Sun over dry land

During wildfires and drought, which could become worse as conditions become warmer, these small particles of dust and soot can get into the air and travel long distances, affecting human health even in regions far away.

Consequences

Human heart and circulatory system

Increased air pollution can aggravate cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses.

hypertension rates by ethnic group

Black Americans are expected to be disproportionately affected by degrading air quality.

Graph of hospital visits

In 2008, 2,000 deaths, 400 hospitalizations, and 600 emergency room visits in the Twin Cities were connected to PM2.5 and ground-level ozone.

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References & Suggested Reading

Bael, D., J. Sample, et al. 2015. "Life and breath: How air pollution affects public health in the Twin Cities." Report.

"Climate change is threatening air quality across the country." 2019. url: https://www.climatecentral.org/news/climate-change-is-threatening-air-quality-across-the-country-2019 Accessed July 16, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019. "Health, United States Spotlight Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Heart Disease"
url: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus/spotlight/HeartDiseaseSpotlight_2019_0404.pdf. Accessed July 23, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2020. "Allergens and Pollen". url: https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/allergen.htm. Accessed Aug 18, 2021

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. "Air Pollution" url: https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/air_pollution.htm Accessed Aug 16, 2021.

Ebi KL, Balbus J, Kinney PL, Lipp E, Mills D, O’Neill MS, and Wilson M. 2008. Effects of global change on human health. In: Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems [Gamble JL (editor), Ebi KL, Sussman FG, and Wilbanks TJ (authors)]. Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, pp. 39-87.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 2021. "Ready: Floods". url: http://www.ready.gov/floods. Accessed Aug 18, 2021

Harding, K. J., and P. K. Snyder (2014), Examining future changes in the character of Central U.S. warm-season precipitation using dynamical downscaling, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 119, doi:10.1002/2014JD022575.

Harding, K. J., and P. K. Snyder (2015), Using dynamical downscaling to examine mechanisms contributing to the intensification of Central U.S. heavy rainfall events, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 120, doi:10.1002/2014JD022819.

Melillo J., Richmond, T., and Yohe, G., 2014. An assessment from the U.S. Global Change Research Program to inform the public with scientific information and methods regarding climate change.

Pryor, S. C., D. Scavia, C. Downer, M. Gaden, L. Iverson, R. Nordstrom, J. Patz, and G. P. Robertson, 2014: Ch. 18: Midwest. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, J. M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and G. W. Yohe, Eds., U.S. Global Change Research Program, 418-440. doi:10.7930/J0J1012N.

Rudolph, L., Harrison, C., Buckley, L. & North, S. (2018). Climate Change, Health, and Equity: A Guide for Local Health Departments. Oakland, CA and Washington D.C., Public Health Institute and American Public Health Association.