Little Rock’s Air Quality Recorded Best Ever for Particle Pollution, Finds 2020 ‘State of the Air’ Report

American Lung Association’s annual air quality report finds nearly half of Americans breathing unhealthy air

Editor’s Note: The full report, as well as trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at Lung.org/sota

The American Lung Association’s 2020 “State of the Air” report found Little Rock has earned mixed rankings for the nation’s most widespread air pollutants—ozone and particle pollution—both of which can be deadly. In fact, the report found this was Little Rock’s best period ever for particle pollution. However, Little Rock ranked tied for 122nd most polluted city for ozone and recorded more unhealthy ozone days compared to last year’s report. 

The Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of particle pollution and ozone during a three-year period. Once again, the report found that nearly half of all Americans were exposed to unhealthy air in 2016-2018.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, which has been responsible for dramatic improvements in air quality. Little Rock residents are seeing these benefits and breathing less unhealthy air in regard to particle pollution compared to last year’s report,” said American Lung Association Director of Advocacy, Shannon Baker.

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 asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer, and new research links air pollution to the development of serious diseases, such as asthma and dementia.

This year’s report covers 2016, 2017 and 2018, the years with the most recent quality-assured data available collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies. Notably, those three years were among the five hottest recorded in global history. Rising temperatures lead to increased levels of ozone pollution. Changing climate patterns also fuel wildfires and their dangerous smoke, which increase particle pollution. Ozone and particle pollution threaten everyone, especially children, older adults and people living with a lung disease. Although this report does not cover data from 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of air pollution on lung health is of heightened concern. Learn more about that at Lung.org/covid-19.

Ozone Pollution in Arkansas

Compared to the 2019 report, Little Rock experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report.

However, Fort Smith experienced zero unhealthy air days and was named to the cleanest cities list for ozone pollution.

“Ozone pollution can harm even healthy people, but is particularly dangerous for children, older adults and people with lung diseases like COPD or asthma,” said Baker. “Breathing ozone-polluted air can trigger asthma attacks in both adults and children with asthma, which can land them in the doctor’s office or the emergency room. Ozone can even shorten people’s lives.”

This report documents that warmer temperatures brought by climate change are making ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. Significantly more people suffered unhealthy ozone pollution in the 2020 report than in the last three “State of the Air” reports.

Particle Pollution in Arkansas

“State of the Air” 2020 tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that Little Rock had zero days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels and was named to the cleanest cities list with Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, and Malvern.

“Particle pollution can lodge deep in the lungs and can even enter the bloodstream. It can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes and cause lung cancer,” said Baker. Particle pollution comes from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices.

 

“State of the Air” 2020 found that year-round particle pollution levels in Little Rock were slightly lower than in last year’s report. Little Rock recorded its lowest level ever and met the national standard.

“Year-round particle pollution levels had dropped in recent years thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines. However, the increase we’ve seen nationally in particle pollution in this year’s report is a troubling reminder that we must increase our efforts to reduce this dangerous pollution,” said Baker.

“We all have the right to breathe clean, healthy air. The 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act serves as a critical reminder that Americans breathe healthier air today because of this landmark law,” said Baker. “At the same time, this year’s report shows that we must stand up for clean air – especially to safeguard our most vulnerable community members. Our leaders, both here in Arkansas and at the federal level, must take immediate, significant action to ward off climate change and other threats to the quality of the air we all breathe.”

While the report examined data from 2016-2018, this 21st annual report also provides air pollution trends back to the first report. Learn more about city rankings, as well as air quality across Arkansas and the nation, in the 2020 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, healthy air, and threats to air quality, contact Britney Stewart at [email protected] or 470-233-7030.  

For more information, contact:

Britney Reddick
470-233-7030
[email protected]

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