Air Quality Report: Michigan’s Smog Gets Worse, Soot Level Improves

Michigan has generally worse results for ozone pollution but has seen improvements for short-term particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s new State of the Air report that covers 2016-2018.
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air pollution
Michigan’s smog has gotten worse while its soot levels have improved, according to American Lung Association’s new State of the Air report. // Stock photo

Michigan has generally worse results for ozone pollution but has seen improvements for short-term particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s new State of the Air report that covers 2016-2018.

Every year, the association’s annual air quality report card tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of particle pollution and ozone during a three-year period. The most recent report found that nearly half of all Americans were exposed to unhealthy air in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Pollution places health at risk, including for those who are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution such as older adults, children, and those with lung disease.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, which has been responsible for dramatic improvements in air quality,” says Ken Fletcher, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association. “However, Michigan residents are breathing more unhealthy air compared to last year’s report, driven by emissions from industrial sources and heat as a result of climate change, placing our health and lives at risk.

“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.”

The State of Air reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants: ozone pollution, 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 can increase the risk of premature death and other 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 diseases such as asthma and dementia.

The report covers the most recent quality-assured data available collected by states, cities, counties, tribes, and federal agencies. The three years were also among the five hottest recorded in global history. Rising temperatures lead to increased levels of ozone pollution. Changing climate patterns also fuel wildfires, which increase particle pollution.

Compared to the previous report, Detroit and Grand Rapids experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone.

The report documents that warmer temperatures brought on by climate change are making the ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. Significantly more people suffered unhealthy ozone pollution in the most recent report than in the last three State of the Air reports.

Year-round particle pollution levels in Detroit were slightly worse but still met the national standard. Detroit posted the fewest days ever with unhealthy particle pollution.

Grand Rapids posted the lowest year-round particle levels as well as a return to zero unhealthy days for short-term particle pollution, which 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,” Fletcher says. “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.”

The report is the 21st and also provides air pollution trends back to the first report. The full report is available here.

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