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Tennessee Air Quality Receives Mixed Grades for Particle and Ozone Pollution in 2019 ‘State of the Air’ Report

American Lung Association’s 20th annual air quality report finds more than 4 in 10 Americans live with unhealthy air quality, Knoxville ranked among 25 most polluted cities, but Clarksville among the cleanest.

Editor’s Note: Trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at Lung.org/sota

(April 23, 2019) - Nashville, TN

For more information please contact:

Gregg Tubbs
[email protected]
(202) 715-3469

– The American Lung Association’s 2019 “State of the Air” report found that air quality across Tennessee varied from region to region. The Knoxville-Morristown-Sevierville metro region ranked 25th as the most polluted city in the nation for year-round particle pollution, while Nashville improved in both ozone and year-round particle pollution. Elsewhere across the state the report finds ups and downs in air quality trends, with Memphis and Chattanooga experiencing more unhealthy days of ozone (smog) pollution, but Clarksville ranking one of the cleanest cities in the country. The annual air quality “report card” tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of ozone or particle pollution, both of which can be deadly.

“Tennessee residents should be aware that in some places we’re breathing unhealthy air, placing our health and lives at risk,” said Gail Frost, executive director of the Lung Association in Tennessee. “In addition to challenges here in places like Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga, the ‘State of the Air’ report highlights that more than 4 in 10 Americans are living with unhealthy air, and we’re heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health.”

This year’s report covers the most recent quality-assured data available collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2015-2017. Notably, those three years were the hottest recorded in global history.

Each year the “State of the Air” provides a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, also called soot. 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 Pollution

Compared to the 2018 report, Memphis, Chattanooga experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. By contrast, Clarksville ranked among the cleanest, with no unhealthy days for ozone pollution, earning an “A” grade.

 “Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Carol Ziegler, DNP, NP-C at Vanderbilt School of Nursing and Meharry Family Clinic and Lung Association spokesperson. “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.”

Particle Pollution

Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.

The 2019 report found this trend mirrored in places like Knoxville, which despite ranking 25th among cities with the worst year-round particle pollution, actually showed marked improvement from last year, when it was rated 22nd. Other cities that saw improvement included Memphis and Nashville, which registered its lowest rate ever for year-round particle pollution.

 “Particle pollution is made of soot or 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,” said Frost. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”

 “State of the Air” 2019 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that Nashville ranked 89th for short-term spikes in particle pollution – unchanged from last year. In fact, no region in Tennessee saw an increase in spikes of short-term particle pollution. 

Learn more about air quality across Tennessee and the nation, in the 2019 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, healthy air, and threats to air quality, contact Gregg Tubbs at [email protected] or 202-715-3469.

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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 coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

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