'State of the Air' 2017 Report Finds Chattanooga Air Quality Improved

Despite continued improvement in U.S. air quality, local residents remain at risk from health effects of unhealthy air according to new report from the American Lung Association

CHATTANOOGA (04/19/2017) (readMedia)-- EMBARGOED UNTIL 12:01 AM, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19

Editor's Note: Trend Charts and rankings for metropolitan areas, county grades are available at Lung.org/sota

The American Lung Association's 2017 "State of the Air" report found Chattanooga has earned overall passing grades for the three most common forms of hazardous air pollution.

In fact Chattanooga ranked as the 84th most polluted city in the nation for ozone. Compared to the previous report, Chattanooga has seen a significant decrease in short-term particle pollution. This is in step with a trend seen across the nation of lower ozone pollution levels.

"According to the 2017 'State of the Air,' people in the Chattanooga area are at risk of unhealthful levels of long term particle pollution, putting them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, worsened COPD symptoms and cardiovascular harm.

The most notable national findings of the 18th annual report were lower overall ozone levels and lower year-round particle levels, offset by a continued trend of extreme short-term spikes in particle pollution, often related to wildfires or droughts. The report finds that the health of 43 million people across the country are at risk from these dangerous spikes in particle pollution.

A notable finding of the report is that Chattanooga had no unhealthy days for short term particle pollution and is ranked one of the cleanest cities in the nation.

Each year the "State of the Air" reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution (smog) and particle pollution (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 be lethal. But the trends reported in this year's report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2013-2015, are strikingly different for these pollutants, nationwide, and in Chattanooga.

Ozone Pollution in Chattanooga

Compared to the 2017 report, Chattanooga experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year's report. Chattanooga was ranked 84th in the country for ozone pollution. This was the best ozone rating for Chattanooga ever.

"Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases. When they breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor's office, the hospital or the emergency room," said Heather Wehrheim, Advocacy Director, American Lung Association.

Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased, thanks to the Clean Air Act's success at cleaning up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, research shows that climate change causes warmer temperatures, which makes ozone harder to clean up.

Particle Pollution in Chattanooga

"State of the Air" 2017 found year-round particle pollution (soot) levels in Chattanooga] during 2013-2015 were lower than the previous year's report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year's report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.

Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, 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. They can even cause lung cancer, and early death.

"Across the country, year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines," said Wehrheim. "This is something we've benefited from in the Chattanooga region, as we've seen a reduction in our year-round particle counts."

Short-term spikes in particle pollution can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the 2017 report, Chattanooga has fewer days when short-term particle pollution has reached unhealthy levels in 2013-2015. This is in contrast to the national trend of increased short-term spikes in particle pollution.

Climate is known to cause increased heat, changes in weather patterns, drought and wildfires, which contributed to the extraordinarily high numbers of days with unhealthy particle pollution in some cities. Many of these spikes in were directly linked to weather patterns like drought or to events like wildfires, which are likely to increase because of climate change and high emissions from wood-burning devices.

"Healthy air protections are under attack, and must be defended to save lives here and across the country. Air travels from one state to another, so only federal protections can help protect the air we all breathe," said Heather Wehrheim. "The Lung Association in Tennessee calls on President Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and members of Congress to fully fund, implement and enforce the Clean Air Act for all air pollutants – including those that drive climate change and make it harder to ensure healthy air for all Americans."

Learn more about Chattanooga rankings, as well as air quality across Tennesee and the nation in the 2017 "State of the Air" report at Lung.org/sota.

For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact the American Lung Association in Tennessee at heather.wehrheim@gmail.com or 502/759-2889.