Region’s first air quality alert arrives as new report shows air quality declined 2015-16

By David Pendered

The state issued the first air quality warning of the year for metro Atlanta Thursday, which happened to be the day Environment Georgia released a report that showed Georgia led the nation in worsening air quality from 2015 to 2016.

atlanta air pollution

Nat King Cole didn’t have metro Atlanta in mind when he sang about the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.” The region led the nation in worsening air quality from 2015-16, according to preliminary data cited in a report from Environment Georgia. Credit: georgiaspecialityservices.com

Admittedly, this segment of the report is based on findings that represent preliminary reports from just 35 states. But the trend doesn’t bode well for the region.

Environmental advocates used the release of the report as an opportunity to oppose some of President Trump’s environmental proposals. Although the nation’s air is cleaner now than 30 years ago, they contend Trump’s proposals will roll back policies that resulted in cleaner air. A statement from Environment Georgia observes the Trump administration in the past month has:

  • “Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;
  • “Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent;
  • “Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and
  • “Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.”
Don Moreland

Don Moreland

“Moving away from clean sources of energy is reckless and frankly un-American,” Don Moreland, chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association, said in a statement. “We should be doing more to clean up pollution and develop clean energy, not less.”

The report, Our Health at Risk, is based on reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, according to Environment Georgia’s statement.

The report shows that metro Atlanta added 32 ozone smog days from 2015 to 2016, according to the report. The region had 121 smog days in 2016 and 89 smog days in 2015.

In 2016, metro Atlanta led the chart with the highest number of days when the air was of moderate quality (92); unhealthy for sensitive groups (26); very unhealthy (3).

The only category in which metro Atlanta didn’t lead was in the category of very unhealthy air quality. The Birmingham-Hoover area took that award, with one day. No other cities recorded air quality that low, according to the report.

Add in soot pollution and the picture is worse. Metro Atlanta recorded 195 days of elevated soot pollution, according to the report. Fifteen Georgia cities had unhealthy levels of soot pollution on at least 10 days during 2015. Metro Atlanta led the state for both smog and soot pollution in both 2015 and 2016, according to the report.

Atlanta air quality report

Metro Atlanta led the nation in the increase in the number of days with elevated smog pollution, based on preliminary data from the EPA cited in a report released Thursday by Environment Georgia. Credit: Our Health at Risk

Thursday’s code orange alert was issued Wednesday afternoon by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division. Passed along by the National Weather Service, the advisory states the standard warning:

  • “Children, people who are sensitive to ozone, and people with heart or lung disease should limit prolonged outdoor exertion during the late afternoon or early evening when ozone concentrations are highest.”

Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia NAACP, observed in a statement from Environment Georgia that certain groups are more likely to reside in areas of poor air quality.

“Unfortunately, the most vulnerable among us, often people of color or those struggling to make ends meet, will live near highly traveled roads or polluting plants,” Johnson said. “These communities are unfairly saddled with an increased risk of lung cancer or death from stroke, lung disease or heart disease.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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