American Lung Association ‘State of the Air’ Report is Designed to Scare

BACKGROUND: On May 1, 2003, the American Lung Association will release its annual “State of the Air” report providing details on air pollution levels across the U.S. The report is likely to be alarmist.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: This report is designed to scare the public and influence policymakers in favor of greater regulations and spending.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: The American Lung Association is an advocacy group. Its reports need to be judged with this fact in mind. For instance, last year’s report harshly and one-sidedly criticized efforts to modify the EPA’s “New Source Review” policies regulating emissions from power plants, calling these efforts a “rollback” that would “dilute the current level of protections.” However, advocates of the modifications, which include the EPA itself, believe the changes improve air pollution protections. Regardless of who is right, the “State of the Air” report provided only one point of view on the matter. This unwillingness to present both sides exposes the report as a political document, not an evenhanded or scientific analysis.

DISCUSSION: Last year’s “State of the Air” report began as follows:

“More than 142 million Americans live in areas where the air they breathe puts them at risk. This finding from the American Lung Association’s State of the Air: 2002 report means that 75% of Americans who live in areas with monitors are breathing in unhealthy amounts of ozone, a powerful respiratory irritant, which is the primary ingredient in the smog that regularly blankets many urban areas during the summer months. A large percentage of those at greatest risk of breathing problems-children, the elderly, and those with chronic lung disease-are living in counties with the highest levels of ozone. Concern for the health of these millions of Americans drives the American Lung Association to insist that all of the provisions of our nation’s Clean Air Act be enforced-and that none of them be weakened. Five years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced tighter standards for ozone and particulate air pollution, in order to prevent thousands of premature deaths, tens of thousands of hospitalizations and other illnesses for respiratory and cardiovascular causes, and millions of days of missed work and school. And yet in the past five years these stricter standards have not been enforced. They have not protected the lungs of a single adult or child. Even more worrisome are proposals to roll back existing provisions of the Clean Air Act, which would result in thousands of extra tons of pollution in the air, risking thousands of lives as a result.”

Apparently noting the American Lung Association’s left-of-center politics, analysts Joel Schwartz of the Reason Public Policy Institute and Steven Hayward of the Pacific Research Institute, both based in California, said in an April 30 analysis: “Clearly ‘State of the Air’ is designed to generate alarming headlines-and aid fundraising for the American Lung Association-rather than provide the media and the public with accurate information on air pollution.”

Schwartz and Heyward recommend that, to help illuminate the ALA’s biases, the group be asked four questions:

1. Is air quality in California, and the U.S. as a whole, better or worse than it was 10 years ago? Five years ago?

2. Is every single person in each city or county with an “F” grade exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution?

3. Does ALA believe that air that exceeds EPA’s 8-hour ozone standard poses a major health risk?

4. Does the American Lung Association believe that, notwithstanding the decline in air pollution in the U.S. and California, air pollution is going to get worse in the future?


American Lung Association at

American Lung Association “State of the Air 2002 Report” at

American Lung Association February 2003 press release attacking administration of George W. Bush at

“Myths and Facts About New Source Review Reform,” Environmental Protection Agency, at

“Four Questions Reporters Should Ask about the ALA’s ‘State of the Air’ Report,” Joel Schwartz and Steven F. Hayward, Reason Public Policy Institute, April 30, 2003, at

“Myths and Facts About the Environment: Air and Water Quality,” The National Center for Public Policy Research at

by Amy Ridenour

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.