Air quality health concerns growing in 2021

Health experts say the fight for clean air should be a top priority in 2021 as millions of people recover from COVID-19.

Video Transcript

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BILL WADELL: Australia is still recovering after bushfires burned millions of acres in 2020. California and Oregon left scarred by wildfires that shattered state records, exposing millions of people to unhealthy air.

TYLER KNOWLTON: Wildfire smoke contains really high levels of particulate matter. And these teeny particles can penetrate deep into your lungs and cause tons of problems.

BILL WADELL: Tyler Knowlton works at Plume Labs, an AccuWeather partner that tracks and forecasts air quality. He says a silver lining to air quality in 2020 was less people driving to work, but the pandemic lockdown benefits were limited.

TYLER KNOWLTON: Well, at the city level, COVID-related lockdowns had some significant impacts on local air quality, particularly pollution caused by car traffic. However, at the national level, the change was minimal. Why? Because other sources of pollution were still going strong-- truck traffic, energy production, home heating, industry, and so on.

BILL WADELL: Top health organizations around the world, including the American Heart Association, are now issuing a call to action. These experts say it's time to treat air pollution as a growing threat to our health. Long-term exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased risk of complications or death for people battling COVID-19.

Experts also say air pollution can raise the risk of a heart attack, diabetes, and stroke. The group insists that leaders need to make big changes now to cut down on emissions. Tyler Knowlton says small steps help, too, like the trend of more people buying and renting bicycles.

TYLER KNOWLTON: Even though the gains might be small in the near future, this is still great news in terms of public health. It's very rare that the health gains from being active are outweighed by the negative effects of air pollution. So if you can, grab a bike, get out for a ride. It's a win-win.

BILL WADELL: For AccuWeather, I'm Bill Wadell.