New Orleans, LA | April 21, 2020
American Lung Association’s annual air quality report finds nearly half of Americans breathing unhealthy air; Shreveport’s air quality ranked for the first time as one of the cleanest cities in the nation for ozone pollution, New Orleans still ranked one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution
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 several cities in Louisiana 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 that Shreveport, Bossier City and Minden recorded its best levels ever for ozone pollution and ranked as one of the cleanest cities in the nation for the first time ever. However, Baton Rouge ranked tied 44th for most polluted city for ozone despite reducing its average unhealthy ozone days.
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. However, Louisiana residents are breathing more unhealthy air compared to last year’s report, driven by extreme heat as a result of climate change, placing our health and lives at risk,” said American Lung Association Director of Advocacy, Ashley Lyerly. ”Furthermore with nearly half of Americans breathing unhealthy air, our ‘State of the Air’ report shows that nationally, because of climate change, the nation is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health.”
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 Louisiana
Compared to the 2019 report, New Orleans experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. New Orleans tied for 93rd most polluted city for ozone.
For the fifth year in a row, the Shreveport-Bossier City-Minden metro area improved again to its fewest unhealthy days ever for ozone pollution and ranked for the first time as one of the cleanest cities in the nation.
Monroe, Ruston, Houma, and Thibodaux all recorded zero unhealthy air days and were on the cleanest cities list for ozone pollution.
Baton Rouge ranked tied 44th in ozone and reduced its average unhealthy ozone days in this year’s report for an improved ranking.
“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 Lyerly. “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 Louisiana
“State of the Air” 2020 found that year-round particle pollution levels in New Orleans were significantly lower than in last year’s report. New Orleans ranked tied 94th for year-round particle pollution and improved to its best level, meeting the national standard.
Baton Rouge and the Shreveport-Bossier City-Minden metro area experienced higher year-round particle pollution levels but both still meet the national standard. The Shreveport-Bossier City-Minden metro ranked tied 16th while Baton Rouge was tied for 46th most polluted city for year-round particle pollution.
“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 Lyerly. Particle pollution comes from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices.
“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 Lyerly.
“State of the Air” 2020 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that New Orleans experienced no days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels. New Orleans ranked as one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle days for the sixth consecutive report.
Alexandria, Houma, Thibodaux, Lafayette, Opelousas, Morgan City, Monroe, Ruston, Metairie, and Hammond all recorded zero unhealthy air days and were named to the cleanest cities list for short-term particle pollution.
Baton Rouge recorded more unhealthy days and ranked tied 48th most polluted city for short-term particle pollution.
The Shreveport-Bossier City-Minden metro area was listed among the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution last year, but its ranking fell to tied for 64th most polluted city for short-term particle pollution after recording more unhealthy days in this year’s report.
Many of these spikes were directly linked to weather patterns like drought which are increasing in frequency and intensity in many areas due to climate change.
“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 Lyerly. “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 Louisiana 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 Louisiana 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.
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to champion clean air for all; to improve the quality of life for those with lung disease and their families; and to create a tobacco-free future. For more information about the American Lung Association, which has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and is a Platinum-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.