Vermont’s Air Quality Remains Among the Cleanest in the Nation, 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 Burlington-South Burlington-Barre metro area is 1 of only 2 cities nationwide ranking on the cleanest cities list for nation’s most widespread air pollutants—ozone and particle pollution—both of which can be deadly. In fact, the only counties in the state to have experienced any increase in these air pollutants is Bennington whose grade on ozone declined from a B to a C, and Chittenden which saw its total year-round particles increase slightly but remained within national standards maintaining its passing grade.      

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. As the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, improving air quality is more important than ever – as studies have shown air pollution harms lung health, and emerging research links long-term exposure to particle pollution to increases in the death rate among COVID-19 patients. Once again, the report found that nearly half of all Americans were exposed to unhealthy air in 2016-2018.

"For many Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated just how important lung health really is," said Dr. Charles Irvin, Member of the American Lung Association’s Vermont Leadership Board and Professor at The University of Vermont’s College of Medicine. "There is no short cut, no alternative to breathing. We must do more to protect our lungs from anything that puts our ability to breathe at risk, be it a virus, tobacco smoke, or air pollution."

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, which has been responsible for dramatic improvements in air quality. Vermont residents are seeing these benefits, and breathing less unhealthy air,” said Lance Boucher, Senior Division Director of State Public Policy for the American Lung Association in Vermont. ”Unfortunately, not everyone lives in Vermont – and 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
Compared to the 2019 report, Burlington continued to experience zero unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. Bennington County was the only county that experience an increase in ozone, resulting in a drop in grade, from a B to a C. Others remained unchanged As from last year.

“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 Dr. Irvin. “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
“State of the Air” 2020 found that year-round particle pollution levels in Burlington’s metro area, as well as in Chittenden county, increased by an insignificant amount since last 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 Dr. Irvin. 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 Boucher.

“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 Burlington’s days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels remained at zero, while Rutland Vermont’s grade went from a C to an A.

“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 Boucher. “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 Vermont 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 air quality across Vermont 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 Jennifer Solomon at [email protected] or 516-680-8927.

For more information, contact:

Jennifer Solomon
(516) 680-8927
[email protected]

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