South Carolina Air Quality Shows Improved Results for Particle Pollution, Finds 2020 ‘State of the Air’ ReportAmerican Lung Association’s annual air quality report finds nearly half of Americans breathing unhealthy air; Three cities named to the cleanest cities list for ozone and short-term particle pollution
Charleston, SC | April 21, 2020
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 South Carolina cities earned mixed rankings for the nation’s most widespread air pollutants—ozone and particle pollution—both of which can be deadly. Florence was named to the cleanest cities lists for ozone and short-term particle pollution after it recorded zero unhealthy air days. Myrtle Beach and Conway were also named to the cleanest cities list for ozone pollution.
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. South Carolina residents are seeing these benefits and breathing less unhealthy air compared to last year’s report, said American Lung Association Senior Director of Advocacy, June Deen.
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 South Carolina
Compared to the 2019 report, Charleston, Greenville, Spartanburg, and Anderson’s number of unhealthy days of high ozone remained the same in this year’s report. The Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson metro area tied 122nd for most polluted city in ozone pollution ahead of Charleston (T-153rd).
“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 Deen. “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 South Carolina
“State of the Air” 2020 found that year-round particle pollution levels in the Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson metro area were significantly lower than in last year’s report. The metro area tied 94th for most polluted city for year-round particle pollution and recorded its best levels ever and meet the national standard.
Charleston tied 150th as its levels remain unchanged in this year’s report.
“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 Deen. 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 Deen.
“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 Florence had zero days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels and was placed on the cleanest cities list.
The Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson metro area had fewer unhealthy air days and tied for 40th most polluted city for short-term particle pollution. Charleston (T-48th) also improved and recorded fewer unhealthy air days.
“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 Deen. “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 South Carolina 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 South Carolina 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, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.
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