Our Changing Air Quality
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.
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.
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.
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.
References & Suggested Reading
Bael, D., et al., 2015: Life and breath: How air pollution affects public health in the Twin Cities. Report. URL.
Climate Central, 2019: "Climate change is threatening air quality across the country." URL.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019: "Health, United States Spotlight Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Heart Disease." URL.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020: "Allergens and Pollen". URL.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2021: "Air Pollution." URL.
Ebi K.L., et al., 2008: Effects of global change on human health. In: Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems. Report.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 2021: "Ready: Floods". URL.
Harding, K. J., and P. K. Snyder, 2014: Examining future changes in the character of Central U.S. warm-season precipitation using dynamical downscaling. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 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. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 120. doi:10.1002/2014JD022819.
Melillo J., T. Richmond, and G. Yohe, 2014: An assessment from the U.S. Global Change Research Program to inform the public with scientific information and methods regarding climate change. Report.
Pryor, S. C., et al., 2014: Ch. 18: Midwest. Climate Change Impacts in the United States. The Third National Climate Assessment, 418-440. doi:10.7930/J0J1012N.
Rudolph, L., et al., 2018: Climate Change, Health, and Equity: A Guide for Local Health Departments. Report by the Public Health Institute and American Public Health Association.