US Wildfires Expected to Worsen Air Quality for Millions

Feb 14, 2024

Wildfire smoke results in air pollution wafting across the US. And it may expose 125 million Americans to harmful air levels at least one day per year by the 2050s, new forecasts predict.

Scientists say that air pollution levels will worsen in the coming decades. They project it'll increase how often people are exposed to “red” and “purple” days of poisoned air. That’s because of climate change. It has increased the intensity of wildfires. They happen mostly in western US regions.

Breathing in particles from wildfire smoke can lead to many health problems. These include the risk of stroke, heart disease, respiratory disease, lung cancer, and early death, said Susan Anenberg. She's the director of the Climate and Health Institute at George Washington University. “The higher the pollution level and the longer the (time you're exposed), the more risk there is,” she told The New York Times.

Due to stricter government oversight of pollution sources, air pollution levels began to fall in the 1950s. The downward trend remained until 2016. That trend has now reversed. Pollution levels, measured by the Air Quality Index, have risen every year since. The index measures the particles that can be absorbed by the lungs and into the bloodstream.

Since 2016, climate change has caused more extreme heat. It has increased ozone levels. It has caused more severe drought. And it has caused wildfires that poison the air.

Using wildfire models, experts say the number of people exposed to at least one day of “red” air each year will increase by 50% between now and 2054, to 125 million. Cities with more polluted air, like Los Angeles and New York, will see the greatest impact.

Based on the information in the article, what’s the main reason scientists think air quality will continue to get worse between now and 2050? (Common Core RI.5.1; RI.6.1)
a. more cars on the road
b. more Americans switching to wind and solar power
c. more intense wildfires
d. more people moving to cities
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