2018 State of the Air Report: Particle pollution levels improving, but warmer temperatures and drift continue to challenge progress on reducing ozone
(April 18, 2018) -
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Ozone pollution continues to be a problem along the Lake Michigan shoreline, with rising temperatures and “drift” from states to the south of the border playing a large role. The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that while year-round particle pollution levels are greatly improving nationwide, ozone levels worsened in some counties, much of which was due to warmer temperatures in 2016, the second warmest year on record in the U.S. As a result, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has informed the state that parts of Door, Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties will be designated “non-attainment” under the latest standard of 70ppb. However, all three counties are expected to be classified at the lowest possible level – marginal – meaning that they will likely meet the standard by the 2020 deadline with measures already in place.
On a positive note, two areas in Wisconsin made the “cleanest” lists – Eau Claire/Menomonie and La Crosse/Onalaska had perfect records for both short-term particle pollution and ozone.
The Lung Association’s reports issued the following grades for Southcentral Wisconsin:
|County||Ozone Grade||Short-Term PM||Yearly PM|
|Columbia||C||Did Not Collect (DNC)||DNC|
More than four in 10 Americans – 133.9 million – live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution, where their health is at risk.
Each year the “State of the Air” provides a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution and particle pollution. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.
“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Dona Wininsky, spokesperson for the American Lung Association in Wisconsin. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room. Ozone can even shorten life itself.”
This report documents how warmer temperatures brought by climate change make ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. Over the past decades, ozone pollution has decreased nationwide because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, rising temperatures threaten those gains.
Several counties along Lake Michigan, especially Sheboygan County continue to be plagued with ozone that originates south of the state line, but is transported upwind. In recent state action, the Wisconsin legislature passed Wisconsin Act 159 that prohibits the use of the Sheboygan Kohler-Andrea State Park air quality monitor, which consistently records high levels of ozone, in the state monitoring network plan. The EPA must now determine whether that monitor should be removed.
“While Sheboygan County is understandably frustrated with ozone that is primarily not of their making, removing the monitor is not the solution,” said Dona Wininsky, spokesperson for the American Lung Association in Wisconsin. She added, “It is vitally important to maintain that monitor, as it is the only source of air pollution information for Sheboygan County residents who live and work near the lake. Removing the monitor doesn’t remove the problem – it only ignores it, which isn’t good for anyone’s health. Additionally, the monitor is the only tool Wisconsin has to document how much ozone is actually drifting up from the south.”
Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. Nine Upper Midwest cities, including Green Bay and Milwaukee improved their year-round particle levels to their lowest ever. Particle pollution is made of tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal.
“State of the Air” 2018 also tracked short-term “spikes” in particle pollution. Many of these spikes can be directly linked to weather patterns like drought or to events like wildfires which are likely to increase because of climate change.
The Lung Association in Wisconsin calls on our members of Congress to defend the Clean Air Act, currently under threat from those who want to weaken this effective public health law. We also call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce the law instead of trying to roll back major safeguards like the Clean Power Plan and cleaner cars, both steps that help us fight climate change and reduce air pollution.
While the report examined data from 2014-2016, this 19th annual report provides online information on air pollution trends back to the first report covering 1996-1998. Learn more at Lung.org/sota.
About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.