Maine Air Shows Mixed Progress, Lung Association Reports

Portland and Bangor metro area rank among the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution; Portland reports increased ozone

This year’s “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association finds that Maine reported mixed results for air pollution throughout its counties and metro areas.  Both Bangor and Portland metro areas were named among the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution, while Portland reported a worsened level of year-round particle pollution, and Bangor fell off the “cleanest 25 cities for year-round particle pollution” due to lack to data. Portland also showed improved levels of ozone and Bangor ranked for the fourth consecutive year as one of the cleanest cities for ozone. Particle pollution and ozone pollution are two of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution. See the full report at Lung.org/sota.

“Maine’s stymied progress on air pollution has been the story of this report for several years. The American Lung Association’s 2021 “State of the Air” report continues to demonstrate long-term, gradual progress here in Maine, while reinforcing the need to think bigger, bolder and take more action on climate change,” said American Lung Association Senior Director for State Advocacy in Maine Lance Boucher. “The report also shows that people of color are significantly more likely to breathe polluted air. Our elected officials must continue to act boldly to recognize climate change, understand and move forward the cause of environmental justice, and acknowledge air pollution as a serious public health concern.”

Overall, the report reinforced the fact that emissions from factories, power plants, diesel- and gasoline-powered motor vehicles (cars and trucks) and equipment play a role in forming ozone and generating dangerous fine particle pollution.  Together, with the rising temperatures due to climate change air quality in the United States is in danger of being degraded, and residents across the country are at an increased risk of air pollution harming health. In addition, Studies show that air pollution exposure is linked to greater risk of respiratory infections, including some evidence that suggests that exposure to air pollution may make people more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. 

The Lung Association has and will continue to support Maine’s consideration of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) Program. By joining the TCI Program, Maine would take a big, bold and necessary step forward for public health. The program is an important tool to reduce transportation pollution, improve air quality, reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change, improve health and invest in cleaner, faster and more reliable public transportation.  It stands to make a significant impact throughout the state for the coming years, but especially urban centers disproportionately impacted by the burden of poor air quality.  

Notable County Grades on ozone:

  • Throughout the State, every county maintained their grade for ozone from last years report: Penobscot (A), Androscoggin (A), Cumberland (B), York (C, Kennebec (A), Aroostook (A), Hancock (D), Knox (C), Oxford (A), Washington (C)
  • York, Hancock and Knox counties recorded slightly less levels of ozone than in last year’s report, but not enough to impact their grade. 
  • York county was the most polluted in the Portland metro area, but improved to the fewest unhealthy days ever, 1.5 days.  The worst period had been from 2001-2003 when the metro area had 22.7 days of high ozone on average.
  • All other counties did not collect this data

Notable county grades on particle pollution: 

  • Throughout the State, all counties maintained A grades for short-term particle pollution, with the exception of Aroostook which maintained its C grade from last year.
  • All counties continued to meet the national standard for year-round particle pollution
  • Cumberland County was the only county to measure worsened year-round particle pollution
  • For the fourth consecutive time both Androscoggin and Cumberland Counties posted zero unhealthy days for short-term particle pollution 
  • All other counties did not collect this data

Boucher continued, “We know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the country are facing multiple threats to their lung health at once, including from unhealthy air pollution. It’s critical to keep looking at the state of our air quality and the things that impact it – like climate change and emissions.  We simply must do more to protect and preserve everyone’s right to breathe clean, healthy air and protect themselves from harmful air pollution.”

The year’s report found that nationwide, more than 4 in 10 people (135 million) lived with polluted air, placing their health and lives at risk. The report shows that nationally people of color were 61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air, and three times more likely to live in a county that failed all three air quality grades. In Maine, more than 300,000 residents living with lung diseases like asthma, COPD and lung cancer, as well as heart disease.  They are already at risk, making them more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. 

The Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of particle pollution (also known as soot) and ozone (smog) over a three-year period – this year’s report covers 2017-2019. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: average annual levels and short-term spikes. Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and are linked to developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.

Learn more about “State of the Air” at Lung.org/sota and sign the petition for the Biden Administration to promote clean air, a safe climate and environmental justice. Media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, clean air and threats to air quality can contact Jennifer Solomon at [email protected] or 516-680-8927. 

For more information, contact:

Jennifer Solomon
(516) 680-8927
[email protected]

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