Climate change-induced ozone pollution could cost U.S. residents more than $5 billion in health-related costs in 2020, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The report, Climate Change and Your Health: Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution, finds that unchecked global warming could increase ground-level ozone, threatening public health and the economy.

Ground-level ozone pollution can exacerbate lung diseases such as asthma and can cause difficulties in healthy individuals, the report says. Global warming has increased temperatures in the United States by more than two degrees Farenheit over the past century—and temperatures are projected to continue rising throughout the next few decades and beyond. Warmer temperatures increase ground-level ozone. “That’s why we hear warnings of ‘bad air days’ due to ozone pollution most often during the summer and on cloud-free days,” according to the report.

Key findings of the report include:

  • In 2020, the continental U.S. could pay an average of $5.4 billion in health impact costs associated with the climate penalty on ozone.
  • Higher ground-level ozone concentrations due to rising temperatures in 2020 could lead to an average of 2.8 million more occurrences of asthma attacks, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness—that number could rise to 11.8 million in 2050.
  • The climate penalty on ozone could lead to an average of 944,000 more missed school days in 2020, and 4.1 million in 2050.
  • Higher ozone concentrations could lead to an average of 3,700 more seniors and 1,400 more infants hospitalized for respiratory-related problems in 2020, and 24,000 more seniors and 5,700 more infants hospitalized in 2050.
  • California may experience the greatest health impacts, with an estimated average of $729 million in 2020 alone.

To make the air cleaner, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must strengthen its current standards for ozone and ozone-forming pollutants that come from power plants, industry and vehicles, the report recommends. “But in the face of a rapidly warming world, these efforts alone will not be sufficient—we also need new strategies to reduce the pollution that causes climate change.”

1. Perera EM, Sanford T. Climate Change and Your Health: Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution. Cambridge, Mass.: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011.