Air Quality and Environmental Justice


Photo by NPS on NPS

Everyone deserves access to a healthy environment! Unfortunately, many people live in areas with bad air quality from pollution. Pollution comes from many sources. Examples of sources include industry, transportation, agriculture, and electricity generation. People who experience more financial stress often live in areas with more pollution. This is bad for their health.

Great progress in reducing air pollution has occurred since the creation of the Clean Air Act in 1970. The figure below shows that between 1970 and 2022, the population and the economy grew in the United States. Over the same time period, federal and state regulations cut emissions of six common pollutants. Still, about 85 million people nationwide still live in counties with unhealthy air.

One pollutant that has negative effects on the environment and humans is mercury. These impacts on the ecosystem are long term. Mercury can have harmful effects on the central nervous system of animals and humans. One negative impact from mercury pollution is the contamination of mercury in fish. Local fish are an important food and protein source for Indigenous people and tribes.

Unfortunately, high mercury levels within fish tissues have led to fish consumption advisories. These advisories limit the number of fish people can safely eat. Restoring the health of the environment from pollutants, including mercury, is important. The health and wellbeing of people who rely on fish is improved by protection of fisheries.


Considerations for eating fish that bioaccumulate mercury because of air pollution. The Fisheries Blog: Mercury in fish, what should I eat? The tissues of fish store mercury after it is deposited into the waterways from many sources. Sources of mercury include coal powered plants, sewage, mining, and industrial waste.

Article describing changes in air pollution because of the Clean Air Act and demographic changes between 1970-2010. An environmental justice analysis of air pollution emissions in the United States from 1970 to 2010 | Nature Communications

Article on environmental justice and forest management in California. Evaluating Environmental Justice in California Forest Management Projects | Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center | SW CASC


The Fisheries Blog: Mercury in fish, what should I eat?

When choosing to catch or buy fish, it is important to consider the species. Even if a specific species of fish is safe to eat, it is still important to know what quantities are safe. This helps you know which fish is safe and nutritious for your health.