Earth Day: 137 million Americans breathe unhealthy air, but biotech can help

Since the American Lung Association’s last “State of the Air” report, released for Earth Day a year ago, an additional 9 million people in America have been affected by potentially deadly particulate pollution, says the 2022 report, published yesterday.

“Despite decades of progress on cleaning up sources of air pollution, more than 40% of Americans—over 137 million people—are living in places with failing grades for unhealthy levels of particle pollution or ozone,” according to the Key Findings of “State of the Air” 2022. “This is 2.1 million more people breathing unhealthy air compared to last year’s report.”

Earth Day: 137 million Americans – 1 in 4 – breathe unhealthy air. (American Lung Association)
Earth Day: 137 million Americans – 4 in 10 – breathe unhealthy air. (American Lung Association)

As we mark Earth Day today, we’re increasingly concerned about air pollution, as well as climate change, plastics pollution, water pollution and many other threats to the planet’s health. The theme for this year’s Earth Day is “Invest in Our Planet.” It is a reminder that “a green future is a prosperous future,” says EARTHDAY.ORG.

“It’s going to take all of us. All in. Businesses, governments, and citizens.”

As the Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report indicates, progress for sustainability also requires a realization that the threats to Earth feed on each other, making it hard to solve one kind of environmental challenge without addressing the others.

“The report continues to show long-term improvement in the nation’s air quality thanks to decades of work to reduce emissions,” according to an American Lung Association press release. “However, this has been offset in part by the negative impacts of hotter, drier conditions caused by climate change. Wildfires in the western U.S. were responsible for a sharp rise in particle pollution spikes in several states.”

The report includes a database where you can check your zip code or metropolitan area and receive a detailed report card on the air in your region.

Biotech solutions for cleaner air


Biotechnology offers a range of solutions to address water pollution and climate change, even helping bring the heavily polluting steel and cement industries closer to net zero.

According to the “Biotech Solutions for Climate Report,” produced by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), biotechnology advances enable fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions to be captured and recycled via a pathway known as carbon capture and utilization (CCU). This reduces demand for fossil fuels and emissions without the need for biomass.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is another important biotech solution making big moves.

Modern aviation reached new heights in December 2021 when the United Airlines 737 MAX 8 aircraft successfully flew 100 passengers from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to Washington D.C.’s Reagan National Airport—using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Listen to a podcast with some of the people involved in this historic flight.

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