State of the Air Report 2021 Finds That Despite Slight Improvements Montana’s Air Still Failing

Climate change, wildfire smoke, continue to drive unhealthy air pollution levels.

This year’s American Lung Association “State of the Air” report finds that Montana’s air quality remains a cause for concern. Counties across the state continue to receive failing grades for short-term particle pollution, one of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution, with one county improving and one county worsening. See the full report at Lung.org/sota.

“The Report’s findings for Montana are consistent with a broader trend of worsening short-term particle pollution throughout the western United States due to climate change,” said Ronni Flannery, Director of Advocacy for American Lung Association’s Healthy Air Campaign in Montana. “Climate change-induced heat and draught is increasing the number and size of wildfires, meaning we’re all breathing more wildfire smoke.”

“Climate change is a health emergency, and makes air pollution from wildfire smoke more likely,” continued Flannery. “Short-term spikes in particle pollution can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. While breathing particle pollution can harm anyone’s health, some people are at greater risk, such as children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with chronic lung and heart conditions. If our air is not safe for everyone to breathe, we need to do more.”

Particle Pollution Continues to Burden Montana Communities
“State of the Air” 2021 found that the City of Missoula continues to rank among the top 25 most-polluted metro areas for both short-term and year-round particle pollution, although its ranking on both lists improved slightly. Missoula is ranked the ninth most polluted metro area for short-term particle pollution (down from its number seven ranking in last year’s report) and the twentieth most polluted for year-round particle pollution (down from its sixteenth ranking). 

Three Montana counties ranked among the 25 counties most polluted by short-term or year-round particle pollution. Lewis & Clark County improved to the tenth (tied) most-polluted county for short-term particle pollution from its ninth place ranking in last year’s report. Ravalli County’s ranking for short-term particle pollution improved slightly to eleventh place from its prior seventh place ranking. Lincoln County ranked on both lists for counties with the worst year-round and short-term particle pollution, ranking twelfth for annual particle pollution and thirteenth (tied) for short-term particle pollution.  

While Gallatin County’s grade for short-term particle pollution improved from an F to a C, Yellowstone County’s grade dropped from a D to an F. Richland County received a C grade for the second year in a row, while all other graded Montana counties received F grades.

Nationwide, this year’s report found that more than 4 in 10 people (135 million) lived with polluted air, placing their health and lives at risk. In Montana, particle pollution placed the health of well over half of its residents at risk, including those who are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, such as older adults, children and people with a lung disease. The report also shows that people of color were 61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air than white people, and three times more likely to live in a county that failed all three air quality grades. The report also finds that climate change made air quality worse and harder to clean up.

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 particle pollution and ozone can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and 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.

For more information, contact:

Montana Media Contact

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