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We're on the List: Top 10 Worst Places to Live in the U.S. for Air Pollution



In March of this year, The Guardian published an analysis that revealed the worst 10 hotspots for fine particle air pollution in the US. Four of the 10 areas they named are regions where Faith in Place staff live and/or work. Those regions include: #3 Chicago’s South & West Sides #4 Northwest Indiana (industrial zones) #5 Central Indianapolis #7 St. Louis Metro which includes East St. Louis, IL


To honor Asthma and Mental Health Awareness Month in May, our team decided to cover this topic on an episode of Voices of the Earth. Take a listen to the episode here.


This blog serves as a companion piece to the podcast. In it, we will feature brief reflections from a few of our colleagues who have taken some time to tell us how they feel about their region being on The Guardian’s list.


But first, let’s talk briefly about the adverse physical and mental health impacts of air pollution and how many people in the U.S. are affected.


Comprehensive air quality data shows that there is a strong correlation between air quality and respiratory health. Asthma is one of the most common chronic lung conditions that Americans live with every day. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), 35+ million U.S. residents live with a chronic lung condition. Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) occur the most frequently.


"It encouraged me that so many others can be freed from wondering 'if;' 'if there is a connection to race and pollution levels,' 'if there is a connection to the health of residents and industry in a community,' and 'if this is an issue worth pursuing.' It is a familiar pain to see Gary, IN on a list that is described as the 'The Worst Place to Live…' But I remember the people who do live here and how they are becoming the change we desire to see."


- Jalisa Mauldin, Indiana Outreach Coordinator



Every year since 2000, the ALA has published a “State of the Air” report—a study that reviews air quality data pertaining to ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter. The 2023 “State of the Air” Report landing page and Key Findings shared some startling statistics:

  • More than 1 in 3 Americans live in places with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

  • In recent years, however, the findings of the report have added to the evidence that a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health.

  • 63.7 million people live in a county with a failing grade “for daily spikes in deadly particle pollution”

  • People of color are 3.7 times more likely than white people to live in a county with three failing grades.”

The likelihood that you or a loved one lives in an area with unhealthy levels of air pollution is high and it is even higher if you are a person of color. Race is a greater predictor of air pollution exposure than income level, etc. other researchers have found. It's no wonder that chronic lung conditions like asthma and COPD are so prevalent!


"While St Louis is known for the Delmar divide, crossing the river into E St Louis is crossing another divide. E St Louis has had a cloud of loss, flight, depression, crime, and pain overlaying it for a long time. The current air pollution is a visible and persistent reminder of the history of the place and how long history holds on."


- Rev. Wade Halva, Southern IL Outreach Coordinator



The American Psychiatric Association has also reported in their blog Air Pollution’s Impact on Mental Health “there is substantial evidence that air pollution also impacts mental health.” They go on to explain several studies are drawing conclusions that show air pollution is disrupting the parts of the brain that control emotional regulation and may be increasing the likelihood of developing anxiety and depression. Alzheimer’s, Dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and personality disorder were also cited as possible outcomes.

As people of many faiths and spiritualities, we cannot stand by these injustices. Here’s how you can get involved.


For anyone living in Illinois, we have a direct action that you can take right now regarding this matter. Call Governor Pritzker and urge him to address heavy-duty truck pollution today! We have linked an easy way to do this, which includes a call script.


If you don’t live in Illinois, make sure you’re signed up for our newsletter to keep up to date with ways that you can take action for healthier communities in your region.

 


Q&A with Jalisa Mauldin and Rev. Wade Halva


We asked our staff to respond to Revealed: the 10 worst places to live in US for air pollution published by The Guardian in March. Here is what Jalisa Mauldin, Indiana Outreach Coordinator, and Rev. Wade Halva, Southern Illinois Outreach Coordinator, had to say about the article and the work Faith in Place is doing in Gary, IN and Southern IL respectively.


How does it make you feel to know the region where you live and/or work is on a list of the worst air pollution in the U.S.?


JALISA:

After reading The Guardian’s article on air pollution, a single phrase rang true in my mind: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” When asked how reading the article made me feel, I can only reflect on the simple fact that The Guardian’s information, no matter how disheartening it is, is true. It encouraged me that so many others can be freed from wondering 'if;' 'if there is a connection to race and pollution levels,' 'if there is a connection to the health of residents and industry in a community,' and 'if this is an issue worth pursuing.' It is a familiar pain to see Gary, IN on a list that is described as the 'The Worst Place to Live…' But I remember the people who do live here and how they are becoming the change we desire to see.


WADE:

While St Louis is known for the Delmar divide, crossing the river into E St Louis is crossing another divide. E St Louis has had a cloud of loss, flight, depression, crime, and pain overlaying it for a long time. The current air pollution is a visible and persistent reminder of the history of the place and how long history holds on.


When articles like this one come out, it can be easy to focus on the negative and ignore good developments happening in a community. What do you want people to know about your region?


JALISA:

Some positive efforts have been started in Gary to identify the largest contributors of air pollution. In 2017 the city of Gary participated in a Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory supported by Indiana University and others. This inventory disclosed that 77% of a total of 12,580,068 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) were emitted by Industrial Energy and the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases was Industrial Processes. It’s encouraging to know that the city was active in this initiative to take stock of the environmental mess we’re in and this definitely puts us a step forward in addressing the environmental harms of industry and pollution. The Department of Environmental Affairs has been moving towards greening the city and mitigating environmental harms. We do, however, have to start thinking of ways to counter levels of pollution that are equally as a combative to mitigate the damage being done.


WADE:

There are so many good people striving in E St Louis. I know pastors who have come back, some who have never left, and others who have been called to this place to serve. People are not giving up on each other or their community. Gardens are being planted, tended, and harvested, and feeding the community. People are engaged and engaging, cleaning up the city streets block by block, working to become new leaders in the community, and forming new partnerships. The people of E St Louis haven't lost hope in their community, even if others have.


How is Faith in Place making a positive impact on air quality in your region?


JALISA:

Faith in Place is working to empower communities of faith in Gary to connect with one another and even across age demographics to raise awareness on issues like air pollution, energy conservation, and the overall health of the city. With Faith in Place’s support, NWI churches are choosing to start Green teams that work towards fixing the environmental burden of their community. With projects ranging from creating CSAs to hosting workshops to make their community more aware of how to create a healthier city, people of faith are leading their friends and families to solve the issues that are facing our community. Involvement doesn’t require a professional background in environmentalism, a certain degree, or to be of a certain tax bracket. Involvement only requires you!


WADE:

Working with partners in E St Louis like the Clean City Coalition, United Congregations of Metro East, Make Health Happen - ESTL, and others, Faith in Place has supported community gardens and farmers markets. We have partnered with community groups to begin works towards restoration of the tree cover in E St Louis to provide for the health of the community. We are largely serving to cheer on the excellent work, reminding those at work that they are seen, appreciated, and encouraged.

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