Addressing the Harmful Effects of Air Pollution on At-Risk Communities

Meredith McCormack, MD discusses consequences of high air pollution levels in the United States found in the 2021 American Lung Association State of the Air Report.

The 2021 American Lung Association Annual State of the Air Report found that more than 40% of people living in the United States live in an area with an unhealthy level of air pollution.

The data also show that people of color are 3 times more likely to breathe polluted air compared to white people.

Meredith McCormack, MD, Medical Director of Pulmonary Function Laboratory and Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, spoke with HCPLive on the findings of the State of the Air report.

McCormack spoke on the effects of pollution on care and advice for clinicians when discussing the longterm health of patients.

"Often people want to know how air quality intersects with what they are doing on a daily basis and so that is a great way to talk to patients," McCormack said. "The ways that we can guide them is to think about green spaces or areas further from a roadway to make sure that they have the best air quality possible in whatever constraints they might have in their local neighborhood."

She touched on the topic of health inequity, particularly people of color who are most affected by poor air quality.

"Air quality is certainly a contributor to health disparities and one of the issues about outdoor air pollution is we know the distribution tracks with poverty, as well as increased risk of air pollution for people of color," McCormack said. "Think about planning, the sources of pollution, how they intersect with communities, so that in the future, we can mitigate exposures that we have currently and reduce air pollution particularly in higher risk communities."

McCormack also spoke on the topics of the effect of COVID-19 on the public interest in air quality and the larger impact climate change will have on air quality in the United States.

"Wildfires provide an example of how pollution in one area can affect another community, the air pollution can spread by wind, and ozone is also carried by wind and can affect communities distant from the source," McCormack said. "To the extent that wildfires are an example of climate change and demonstrate the importance of addressing climate change."

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