Roanoke No Longer on List of Cleanest Cities for All 3 Pollutant Measures—Worsening for Short-term and Year-Round Particle Pollution; Still Ranked One of Cleanest Cities for Ozone Pollution

1 in 3 Nationwide Exposed to Unhealthy Air
Roanoke’s air quality has gotten worse as the county fell from the list of cleanest cities for all three pollutant measures in the American Lung Association’s 2023 “State of the Air” report, which was released today. The Roanoke metro area (comprising 4 counties and 2 independent cities) did post zero high ozone days (an “A” grade), placing it among the cleanest in the nation for ozone pollution. Even so, after ranking four consecutive years as one the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution, the county ties for 118th most polluted, with more unhealthy air days, no longer making the list; and year-round particle pollution worsened after 13 consecutive years of improvement.  

Nationally, the report found that nearly 120 million people, or more than one in three, in the U.S. live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. The Lung Association’s 24th annual “State of the Air” report grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2019-2021. 

“Here in Roanoke and across the nation, we are seeing ozone pollution improving, thanks in big part to the success of the Clean Air Act. But there is more work to do,” said Aleks Casper, Advocacy Director for the Lung Association. “Even one poor air quality day is one too many for our residents at highest risk, such as children, older adults, individuals who are pregnant and those who are living with chronic disease. That’s why we are calling on lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels to take action to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe.”

“The American Lung Association believes that Virginia must continue to improve local air quality and enact policies to cut all harmful pollutants and ultimately protect the health and well-being of Virginians, this includes policies that would help Virginia’s transition to zero emission vehicles through continued participation in Advanced Clean Car Standards,” said Casper.

Nationally, the report found that ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, thanks in large part to the success of the Clean Air Act. However, more work remains to fully clean up harmful pollution, and short-term particle pollution continues to get worse. In addition, some communities bear a greater burden of air pollution. Out of the nearly 120 million people who live in areas with unhealthy air quality, a disproportionate number – more than 64 million (54%) – are people of color. In fact, people of color were 64% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one measure, and 3.7 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three measures. 

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in Roanoke County, VA
State of the Air” reports that Roanoke County, VA (the only place monitored for ozone in the metro area) experienced zero unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report, marking the 7th consecutive year as one of the cleanest cities in the U.S. for ozone pollution. Roanoke County received an “A” grade for ozone pollution.

Particle Pollution in Roanoke Metro Area
The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. Roanoke metro area’s short-term particle pollution got worse in this year’s report (after 4 consecutive years of improvement), which means there were more unhealthy days. The metro area is ranked 118th worst for short-term particle pollution. Roanoke County was worst in the metro area reporting 0.3 unhealthy air days and received a “B” grade for short-term particle pollution, compared to an “A” grade in last year’s report.

The 2023 “State of the Air” found that the year-round particle pollution level in the metro area worsened slightly (after 13 consecutive years of improvement) than in last year’s report. The area was ranked 164th most polluted for year-round particle pollution, worse than the ranking of 172nd last year and no longer placing on the cleanest cities list for the measure but still meets national standards.

The American Lung Association is calling on President Biden to urgently move forward on several measures to clean up air pollution nationwide, including new pollution limits on ozone and particle pollution and  measures to clean up power plants and vehicles. See the full report results and sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA.
For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
717-971-1123
[email protected]

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