Adverse Health Impacts of Outdoor Air Pollution, Including from Wildland Fires, in the United States “Health of the Air,” 2018–2020

Kevin Cromar, Laura Gladson, Julia Gohlke, Yunyao Li, Daniel Tong, Gary Ewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rationale: Adverse health impacts from outdoor air pollution occur across the United States, but the magnitude of these impacts varies widely by geographic region. Ambient pollutant concentrations, emission sources, baseline health conditions, and population sizes and distributions are all important factors that need to be taken into account to quantify local health burdens. Objectives: To determine health impacts from ambient air pollution concentrations in the United States that exceed the levels recommended by the American Thoracic Society. Methods: Using a methodology that has been well established in previous “Health of the Air” reports, this study provides policy-relevant estimates for every monitored county and city in the United States for the adverse health impacts of outdoor pollution concentrations using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency design values for years 2018–2020. Additionally, for the first time, the report includes adverse birth outcomes as well as estimates of health impacts specifically attributable to wildland fires using an exposure dataset generated through Community Multiscale Air Quality simulations. Results: The adverse health burdens attributable to air pollution occur across the entire age spectrum, including adverse birth outcomes (10,660 preterm and/or low-weight births; 95% confidence interval [CI], 3,180–18,330), in addition to mortality impacts (21,300 avoidable deaths; 95% CI, 16,180–26,200), lung cancer incidence (3,000 new cases; 95% CI, 1,550–4,390), multiple types of cardiovascular and respiratory morbidity (748,660 events; 95% CI, 326,050–1,057,080), and adversely impacted days (52.4 million days; 95% CI, 7.9–92.4 million days). Two different estimates of mortality impacts from wildland fires were created based on assumptions regarding the underlying toxicity of particles from wildland fires (low estimate of 4,080 deaths, 95% CI, 240–7,890; middle estimate of 28,000 deaths, 95% CI, 27,300–28,700). Conclusions: This year’s report identified sizable health benefits that would be expected to occur across the United States with compliance with more health-protective air quality standards such as those recommended by the American Thoracic Society. This study also indicates that a large number of excess deaths are attributable to emissions from wildland fires; air quality management strategies outside what is required by the Clean Air Act will be needed to best address this important source of air pollution and its associated health risks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-87
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of the American Thoracic Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • air pollution
  • environmental policy
  • pregnancy outcome
  • risk assessment
  • wildfires

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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