The American Lung Association’s 2019 “State of the Air” report found that despite improvements in air quality, the Detroit-Warren-Ann Arbor metro region still ranked 12th for most year-round particle pollution in the nation.
The region also experienced more days with dangerous spikes in short-term particle pollution.
The annual air quality “report card” tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of ozone or particle pollution, both of which can be deadly.
Grades across the state continued to be mixed, as cities like Grand Rapids experienced fewer day of high ozone (smog) pollution, while Grand Rapids has been designated in “nonattainment” for EPA ozone levels.
“Michigan resident residents should be aware that we’re breathing unhealthy air, driven by extreme heat as a result of climate change, placing our health and lives at risk,” said Ken Fletcher, Director of Advocacy for the Lung Association in Michigan. “In addition to challenges here in Michigan, the 20th-anniversary ‘State of the Air’ report highlights that more than 4 in 10 Americans are living with unhealthy air, and we’re heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health.”
This year’s report covers the most recent quality-assured data available collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2015-2017. Notably, those three years were the hottest recorded in global history.
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 lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.
Compared to the 2018 report, Detroit area levels were unchanged from last year, while Grand Rapids saw slightly fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report.
“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Fletcher. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room. Ozone can even shorten life itself.”
This report documents how warmer temperatures brought by climate change make ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up.
This year’s report showed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to the record-breaking global heat experienced in the three years tracked in the report.
Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.
This was mirrored in Michigan as Detroit and Ann Arbor saw their lowest levels yet for year-round particle pollution and Grand Rapids and Muskegon also saw improvements and now meet national standards.
“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Fletcher. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”
“State of the Air” 2019 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal.
The report found that Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Muskegon all experienced fewer spikes in short-term particle pollution, but Detroit, Warren and Ann Arbor all had more unhealthy days of short-term particle pollution.
Learn more about air quality across Michigan and the nation, in the 2019 “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 Gregg Tubbs at Gregg.Tubbs@Lung.org or 202-715-3469.