The latest edition of the US Environmental Protection Agency's annual interactive air report was released on June 1, 2022, tracking trends in air quality and emissions data as well as overall environmental impacts of air pollution. As Christopher Ingraham of The Why Axis summarized the findings:
Ambient levels of a pollutant responsible for tens of thousands of annual deaths in the United States have increased by 12 percent in the past two years, according to new data released on June 1 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Much if not all of that increase can be attributed to an especially busy wildfire season which flooded parts of the country with noxious smoke for weeks at a time.
The United States emitted about 1.4 million tons of PM2.5 from human activity, according to the EPA. That number is virtually unchanged since 2018, suggesting that "natural" sources like wildfires are behind much of the recent increase. That increased wildfire activity, on the other hand, is in large part due to human-driven climate change.
To be clear — and the EPA does make this abundantly clear in its press release — clean air quality is still largely trending downwards, as it has done for decades:
EPA examines long-term trends to track the nation's progress toward clean air. The report released today shows that, between 1970 and 2021, the combined emissions of six key pollutants dropped by 78 percent, while the U.S. economy remained strong – growing 292 percent over the same time.
In addition, national average concentrations of harmful air pollutants decreased considerably across our nation between 1990 and 2021:
• Carbon Monoxide (CO) 8-Hour,79%
• Lead (Pb) 3-Month Average,85% (from 2010)
• Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) Annual,61%
• Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) 1-Hour,54%
• Ozone (O3) 8-Hour,21%
• Particulate Matter 10 microns (PM10) 24-Hour,32%
• Particulate Matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) Annual,37% (from 2000)
• Particulate Matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) 24-Hour,33% (from 2000)
• Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) 1-Hour,91%
So I guess the good news here is that the air quality hasn't declined specifically because of pollutants and carbon emissions … but rather, because of climate change, which is largely impacted by pollutants and carbon emissions.
Latest EPA data confirms that air quality progress has stalled, and in some cases is reversing [Christopher Ingraham / The Why Axis]