It’s Bad Y’all: The Lethal Connection between Extreme Heat and Air Quality

In April the American Lung Association issued the 2022 “State of the Air” report, an assessment that uses report card style grades (A, B, C, D, and F) to track and report Americans’ exposure to air pollution. On this report card, the DFW metroplex earned an “F” for ozone pollution. It was also ranked as the 16th most polluted metro area for ozone in the entire country.1 And this is bad news. Scientists have studied the effects of ozone on health for decades. Hundreds of studies have confirmed that ozone causes serious harm to humans including asthma, strokes, heart attacks, premature death, and low birth weight.2

But this is only part of the bad news. The extreme, record-breaking temperatures that swept through the country this past summer have made the air quality problem even worse. For perspective, Texas has already seen more days with unhealthy levels of air pollution this year than it has in nearly a decade.3 According to EPA data at least 12 million Texans live in a county that doesn’t even meet federal ozone standards.3

And that’s still not all the bad news. When extreme heat and poor air quality combine it causes even more serious health problems than initially thought. Research has shown that the risk of death increases on days when one is exposed to extreme heat or air pollution, but research is also showing that this risk soars even higher on days where heat and air pollution exposure combine. One recent study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (2022) found, for example, that on days where extreme heat and air pollution converge, the risk of death increases by 21%.4 And mortality is even higher for older adults and those with preexisting conditions.  

The bottom line is that extreme heat, poor air quality, and public health go hand in hand.  It’s a complex, multifaceted   problem with no easy or quick fixes. It’s also somewhat of a Catch 22.  Consider, for example, that heat triggers more air conditioning use in buildings and cars as people seek refuge from oppressive temperatures. This additional power usage emits more air pollution which in turn increases peoples’ risk to serious illness and death.

With extreme heat and poor air quality expected to continue to combine with global warming, it’s more important than ever to know the risks and understand the data. We have compiled a few resources to help you track air quality in your area and abroad.  

The EPA’s AirNow site provides a calculator to assess current air quality in your city and zip code.

The American Lung Association site can be used to check out the State of Air Report Card in your city and state.

The State of Global Air site provides data on global air pollution data and can be used to create custom maps.


1. New report: DFW’s air quality gets worse. American Lung Association, April 21, 2022.

2. American Lung Association.

3. Erin Douglas.  Smog levels in Texas surge during heat wave, bringing  worse summer air quality in a  decade.  The Texas Tribune  July 14, 2022.

4. The effects of co-exposure of heat and particulate air pollution on mortality in California: implications for climate change. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care, 2022. 

(Featured Image credits: WFAA)

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