New Report: Kansas City Air Pollution Significantly Improves

Kansas City’s ozone pollution (smog) has improved significantly and the metro area is now ranked the 62nd most polluted city in the nation, according to the 2018 “State of the Air” report released by the American Lung Association in Kansas and Greater Kansas City today. This is a substantial increase, as the city was ranked the 46th most polluted city for ozone in last year’s report. The metro area also ranked 50th most polluted for year-round particle pollution and 46th most polluted for short-term particle pollution.

“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone and particle pollution in Kansas City put our citizens at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and greater difficulty breathing for those living with a lung disease like COPD,” said Susannah Fuchs, director of clean air for the Lung Association. “Across the nation, the report found improvement in air quality, but still, 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, 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 in Kansas City Metro Area
With the lowest number of unhealthy days ever since the first “State of the Air” report 19 years ago, Kansas City has improved its ozone air pollution. Compared to the 2017 report, Kansas City improved its ranking significantly with fewer unhealthy ozone days.

“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Fuchs. “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. This year’s report showed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to warmer temperatures in 2016, the second hottest year on record in the U.S. 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.

Particle Pollution in Kansas City Metro Area
The 2018 report also found that Kansas City dropped its levels of year-round particle pollution to the lowest levels ever. However, short-term particle pollution levels were slightly higher than last year. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of 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 Fuchs. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”

The trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2014-2016, reflect the ongoing challenges to reduce each pollutant in the changing political and outdoor climate.

“We can and should do more to save lives,” Fuchs said. “The Lung Association 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 about Kansas City’s rankings, as well as air quality across the nation, in the 2018 “State of the Air” report at For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, and threats to air quality, contact Jill Thompson at 312-940-7001 or at [email protected]

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