Outdoor air pollution adversely affects human health and is estimated to be responsible for five to ten per cent of the total annual premature mortality in the contiguous United States1-3. Combustion emissions from a variety of sources, such as power generation or road traffic, make a large contribution to harmful air pollutants such as ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5)4. Efforts to mitigate air pollution have focused mainly on the relationship between local emission sources and local air quality2. Air quality can also be affected by distant emission sources, however, including emissions from neighbouring federal states5,6. This cross-state exchange of pollution poses additional regulatory challenges. Here we quantify the exchange of air pollution among the contiguous United States, and assess its impact on premature mortality that is linked to increased human exposure to PM2.5 and ozone from seven emission sectors for 2005 to 2018. On average, we find that 41 to 53 per cent of air-quality-related premature mortality resulting from a state's emissions occurs outside that state. We also find variations in the cross-state contributions of different emission sectors and chemical species to premature mortality, and changes in these variations over time. Emissions from electric power generation have the greatest cross-state impacts as a fraction of their total impacts, whereas commercial/residential emissions have the smallest. However, reductions in emissions from electric power generation since 2005 have meant that, by 2018, cross-state premature mortality associated with the commercial/residential sector was twice that associated with power generation. In terms of the chemical species emitted, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide emissions caused the most cross-state premature deaths in 2005, but by 2018 primary PM2.5 emissions led to cross-state premature deaths equal to three times those associated with sulfur dioxide emissions. These reported shifts in emission sectors and emission species that contribute to premature mortality may help to guide improvements to air quality in the contiguous United States.