Clean Air Month Highlights Importance of Improving Air Quality and Encourages Action

Seven million people around the world die each year due to the effects of pollution. This May, Clean Air Month is an important time to increase awareness for effects of pollution, environmental issues and initiate action.


Wikimedia Commons

Though efforts like the signing of the Clean Air Act have helped air quality, air pollution remains a prominent and increasingly more dangerous issue. May is Clean Air Month and encourages citizens and students to reflect on their personal contribution to air pollution while it calls for action.

Melissa Waas, Staff Writer

More than a third of Americans currently live in environments with levels of unhealthy air pollution, according to a study by the American Lung Association (ALA). Initially declared by the ALA in 1972, Clean Air Month seeks to increase awareness for clean air and its health effects on citizens, as well as encourage people to help in making our air more pure. 

Pollution Accounts to be Highest Environmental Risk Factor 

Scientists have identified pollution to be the highest environmental risk factor contributing to premature deaths. The World Health Organization estimated that each year seven million deaths around the world can be attributed to pollution by worsening respiratory problems, such as asthma, or enabling fine particulate matter and ozone to install itself in the lung tissue. Air pollution has been tied to causing strokes, heart attacks and lung cancer.

U.S. organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have responded to air pollution with initiatives such as the Clean Air Act, signed in 1970, to reduce emissions of transportation, power plants and manufacturing. A 2021 report from the EPA showed emissions from principal air pollutants, such as ground-ozone levels and particulate matter, have decreased from 1980 to 2021. The report demonstrated a 70% decrease of carbon monoxide levels and a 92% sulfur dioxide levels in the air since 1980. Success of such efforts are encouraging in a time where headlines about environmental catastrophes due to climate change, and talk about the ‘point of no return’, past which earth’s climate will begin to break down, without possibility of reversion, seem to dominate the news.

However, effects of climate change have played reversive role in improving air quality. Record-high temperatures and wildfires in the US in recent years have increased ozone and particle pollution, counteracting actions to help clear the air. The series of wildfires that accompanied residents on the west coast of the U.S. in the summer of 2022 were sparked by increased temperature and drought and released toxins, further polluting the air. 

There is a Lot to be Done

While Clean Air Month is one initiative to raise awareness for air pollution, there are other initiatives focusing on tackling environmental issues, in particular climate change. Fridays For Future is an initiative fueled by middle and high school students across the world, realizing that actions performed today impact the future. The movement focuses on the need for action against climate change by politicians, through climate strikes. It saw international uprising in 2019 and was led by then 15 year-old Swedish climate activist Gretha Thunberg. 

: A protester holds up a poster, painted with the swedish words “Skolstrejk För Klimatet,” meaning “school strike for climate” among a group of climate activists. Scenes like these in Stockholm, Sweden, can be seen everywhere in Europe: activists, many among them students, standing on the streets and protesting for more action from political leaders to protect the environment. (Wikimedia Commons)

At Rock Ridge, initiatives to promote environmental awareness can be seen by the Environmental Club. This club aims to help the environment by performing monthly trash pickups in Rock Ridge’s surroundings, or help other volunteer organizations like ‘Green and Beyond’. However, Co-president of the Environmental Club, junior Claire Cho, thinks there is an opportunity for more action in spreading awareness. “I feel like people are aware, but not aware enough about their impact, I don’t think they are taking initiative,” Cho said.

Like Cho, Earth Science and AP Environmental Science teacher Kayla Hennessey thinks there can be done more at Rock Ridge to ignite action for small acts that help our environment. She developed an interest in environmental issues in college, and started teaching these sciences to pass on knowledge and awaken interest in students. “I think it is a huge issue that a lot of people don’t give as much importance as they should,” Hennessey said. “I have been really trying to push people to take the class and get some knowledge on it, because I think it’s an issue that will ultimately affect literally everyone on the earth.”

Co-president of the environmental club junior Anisha Rapolu believes protecting our air is important for future generations living on this planet. “If we don’t keep our air clean for now, how would future generations be able to live and breathe like we did?” Rapolu said.

Phoenix can contribute to making our air and environment cleaner by volunteering or donating to local organizations like Keep Loudoun Beautiful and Loudoun County Park, Recreation and Community Services. These services promote environmental care and awareness through projects like trash pick ups and planting. By helping these organizations, phoenix are on their way to fulfilling their part in helping our environment during Clean Air Month.