CHARLESTON – The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found some cities in South Carolina earned poorer grades for the nation’s most widespread air pollutants.
Compared to the 2017 report, some South Carolina cities saw an increase in ozone pollution slightly. This is in keeping with a trend seen across the nation of higher ozone pollution levels.
Some South Carolina cities experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone. However, Charleston, North Charleston and Florence experienced no unhealthy air days of ozone pollution and were ranked among the cleanest cities in ozone pollution.
Additionally, Augusta tied for 43rd most polluted in the nation for year-round particle pollution.
“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report reveals that unhealthful levels of pollution put our citizens at risk,” said June Deen, senior vice president of Public Policy and Health Promotions for the American Lung Association in South Carolina. “Ozone pollution and particle pollution are two of the most widespread and dangerous air pollutants. Breathing these pollutants can cause asthma attacks, respiratory and cardiovascular harm, and even early death. Breathing particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.
"Despite the recent increase in ozone pollution, the State of the Air 2018 report shows that the Clean Air Act has worked to clean up much of the dangerous air pollution across the nation for decades. The air is cleaner, but not clean enough to protect people’s health from harm. And climate change will continue to make both ozone pollution and particle pollution harder to clean up.”
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.
The trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2014-2016, reflect the ongoing challenges to reduce each pollutant in the changing political and outdoor climate.
“We can and should do more to protect our air and save lives,” Deen said. “The Lung Association in South Carolina calls on our members of Congress to defend the Clean Air Act, currently under threat from those who want to weaken this effective public health law. We also call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce the law instead of trying to roll back major safeguards like the Clean Power Plan and cleaner cars, both steps that help us fight climate change and reduce air pollution.”
Each year 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.
Ozone pollution in S.C.
Compared to the 2017 report, some South Carolina cities, like Columbia, experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. In fact, Augusta tied for 122nd most ozone polluted city in the nation.
“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Deen. “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 warmer temperatures in 2016, the second hottest year on record in the U.S. Over the past decades, ozone pollution has decreased nationwide because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles.
Particle pollution in S.C.
The 2018 report also found year-round particle pollution levels slightly higher than the 2017 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 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 Deen. “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” 2018 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that some South Carolina cities had more days when short-term particle pollution has reached unhealthy levels in 2014-2016. Charleston, North Charleston, Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson reported significantly more unhealthy air days. The Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson metro ranked 32nd for most polluted city for short-term particle days. The Charleston-North Charleston metro is tied 38th for most polluted city for short-term particle days.
While the report examined data from 2014-2016, this 19th annual report provides online information on air pollution trends back to the first report covering 1996-1998. Learn more about city rankings, as well as air quality across South Carolina and the nation, in the 2018 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota.