American Lung Association Report: Fargo’s Air Quality Suffers from Short Spikes in Pollutants, No Longer One of Nation’s Cleanest Cities

American Lung Association 2023 “State of the Air” report highlights air quality in Fargo, Bismarck, and across the nation
Fargo’s air quality has gotten notably worse since last year’s report, according to the American Lung Association’s 2023 “State of the Air” report, which was released today. Several bad air quality days due to wildfire smoke knocked the city off the list of year-round cleanest cities and onto the top 25 list of most polluted cities for short-term particle pollution. Bismarck maintained its presence on the Top 25 cleanest cities for annual particle pollution, but it too received a failing grade for short-term particle pollution. Nationally, the report found that nearly 120 million people, or more than one in three, in the U.S. live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.

The Lung Association’s 24th annual “State of the Air” report grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2019-2021.

“Wildfire smoke the past few years, especially in 2021, blew in from fires on the West Coast and in Canada and caused many days of unhealthy levels of air pollution across the state,” said Jon Hunter, Senior Director of Clean Air for the Lung Association. “Even one poor air quality day is one too many for residents at highest risk, such as children, older adults, individuals who are pregnant and those living with chronic disease. That’s why we are calling on lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels to take action to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe.”

Nationally, the report found that ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, thanks in large part to the success of the Clean Air Act. However, more work remains to fully clean up harmful pollution, and short-term particle pollution continues to get worse. In addition, some communities bear a greater burden of air pollution. Out of the nearly 120 million people who live in areas with unhealthy air quality, a disproportionate number – more than 64 million (54%) – are people of color. In fact, people of color were 64% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one measure, and 3.7 times as likely to live in a county with failing grades for all three measures.

Ground-level Ozone Pollution
Given this year’s B grade, Cass County ended its 18-year streak of receiving an A letter grade for having no days with elevated levels of ozone pollution during the three-year report period. The B grade took Fargo off the report’s national cleanest city list for ozone pollution this year. Billings, Dunn, Mercer, and Oliver counties also dropped to B grades, while Burke, Burleigh, McKenzie, and Ward counties maintained their A grades.  

Particle Pollution
The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. Seven of the nine counties with full air monitoring data received F grades in this year’s report. Fargo’s short-term particle pollution got worse in this year’s report, which means there were more unhealthy days. The area received its worst rank ever in the 20 years of the State of the Air report for short-term particle pollution.

The particulate pollution impacts in the Bismarck area were more mixed. Burleigh County also received an F for short-term particle pollution, down from a C in last year’s report. However, Bismarck continues to be listed in the Top 25 cleanest cities for year-round (annual average) particle pollution, though its rank slipped from #8 last year to #22 nationally this year.  

Much of the spike in North Dakota’s recent air pollution can be attributed to wildfire smoke. Weather patterns can carry smoke long distances before sending it down to ground level where it can harm anyone who breathes it. While the sources of the wildfire smoke may have been distant in 2020 and 2021, the damaging health effects are felt locally. As global warming continues to exacerbate droughts that feed larger and larger wildfires in North American forests, these kinds of air pollution events are expected to continue to threaten our health.

The American Lung Association is calling on President Biden to urgently move forward on several measures to clean up air pollution nationwide, including new pollution limits on ozone and particle pollution and new measures to clean up power plants and vehicles. See the full report results and sign the petition at

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Janye Killelea
[email protected]

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