Report: Knoxville air quality still a health risk despite recent improvements

Local News

The American Lung Association has released the results of its 19th annual “State of the Air” report and Knoxville continues to improve air quality but still is rated low in many of the metrics. 

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.

Knoxville-Morristown-Sevierville was ranked 22nd worse out of 187 metropolitan areas for annual particle pollution and 34th out of 201 metropolitan areas in 24-hour particle pollution. The metropolitan area received ‘D’ grades in both high ozone days and 24-hour particle pollution, the latter ranking even worse than the Atlanta metro area which received a ‘B’ grade despite roughly a six time greater population.

More online: EPA air quality website

Knox and five other counties received “C” grades for the number of high ozone days; three counties got “A” grades and one, Shelby, got an “F.” Shelby County’s high-particulate pollution grade was a “B.”

Despite the dour ratings, Knox county, along with all Tennessee counties that measure such pollution, received a ‘pass’ rating for all recorded pollution metrics, meaning levels were below a weighted national average.

“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone and particle pollution in Knoxville put our citizens at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and greater difficulty breathing for those living with a lung disease like COPD. Such high levels of year-round particle pollution mean our citizens also face an increased risk for lung cancer,” said Heather Wehrheim, Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Tennessee.

“Across the nation, the report found continued improvement in air quality, but still, more than four in 10 Americans – 133.9 million – live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution, where their health is at risk.”

This year’s report showed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to warmer temperatures in 2016, the second hottest year on record in the U.S. Over the past decades, The report states ozone pollution has decreased nationwide as coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions have become more regulated.

Knoxville experienced 3 unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report and has experienced 5 or less since 2013, a massive decrease from the late 90s and early 2000s when the area experienced 75 to over 100 high ozone days a year. 

This is the first year since the 2014 report, that grades are available for Knoxville and other Tennessee cities due to enough quality data. 

The Lung Association reinforced their support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act and advocated against changes to the act that have been discussed by the Trump administration and EPA head Scott Pruitt.

“The Clean Air Act has saved lives and improved lung health for nearly 50 years,” American Lung Association National President and CEO Harold P. Wimmer said. “Congress and the EPA are tasked with protecting Americans—including protecting the right to breathe air that doesn’t make people sick or die prematurely. We call on President Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and members of Congress to fully fund, implement and enforce the Clean Air Act for all pollutants—including those that drive climate change and make it harder to achieve healthy air for all.”

Sullivan County is the only Tennessee county that doesn’t currently meet the federal Environmental Protection Agency‘s standards.

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