American Lung Association State of the Air 2021 Report: New Mexico Air Quality Remains Unhealthy for Many Residents

This year’s “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association finds that New Mexico air quality results were mixed for the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution. The Albuquerque metro, Las Cruces, Lea and Eddy counties all saw increases in the number of days ozone reached unhealthy levels. See the full report at Lung.org/sota.

“Overall, too many people in New Mexico are impacted by unhealthy air - especially children, those over 65, people with COPD, lung cancer or cardiovascular disease and people of color, said JoAnna Strother, senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association. “Healthy people can also experience shortness of breath and coughing where air pollutants are high. As New Mexicans spend more time outdoors, these pollution levels put them at increased levels of risk – more must be done to protect our health.” 

Ozone Pollution in New Mexico
Compared to the 2020 report, the Albuquerque metro saw more days with unhealthy ozone levels. This resulted in Albuquerque metro ranking as the 26th most polluted city in the U.S. compared to 42nd in last year’s report. Las Cruces saw more unhealthy ozone days on average as well, jumping for the third straight year and worsening its ranking from 17th in last year’s report to 13th most polluted city for ozone in the 2021 report. Eddy county is ranked 24th for most polluted county in the U.S. and is one of only two rural counties among the 25 most polluted in the country. 

Particle Pollution in New Mexico
“State of the Air” 2021 found that year-round particle pollution levels in the Albuquerque metro had slightly worsened while Las Cruces saw fewer days of unhealthy particulates, improving its ranking from 49th in last year’s report to 68th. The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that the Albuquerque metro saw zero days in short-term particle spikes, landing it on the cleanest cities list for particulate matter while Las Cruces saw more days of detrimental short-term particle 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. In New Mexico, pollution placed at risk the health of residents, 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 finds that climate change has made air quality worse.

The Lung Association’s annual air quality report tracks particle pollution (also known as soot) and ozone (smog) over three-year periods – 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 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.

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