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Severe wildfires continue to impact Montana’s air quality

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American Lung Association ‘State of the Air’ report reveals that residents face exposure to particle pollution and poor air quality

AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION

MISSOULA – The 2022 State of the Air report, released on Thursday, April 21 by the American Lung Association, found that Montana’s rankings were mixed for some of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution: particle pollution and ozone. Missoula is ranked 29th most polluted for short-term particle pollution and 67th most polluted for year-round particles.

The “State of the Air” report is the Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” that tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution (also known as smog), annual particle pollution (also known as soot) and short-term spikes in particle pollution, over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2018-2020.

“The levels of particle pollution in many parts of Montana can harm the health of all of our residents, but particularly at risk are children, older adults, pregnant people and those living with chronic disease,” said Carrie Nyssen, senior director of advocacy for the Lung Association. “Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage and developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.”

Ground-level Ozone Pollution

In Montana, ozone is less prominent than particle pollution. All seven counties with monitors received passing grades (Fergus, Flathead, Lewis and Clark, Phillip, Powder River, Richland and Rosebud).

Particle Pollution

The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. Eight counties, (Fergus, Flathead, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Lincoln, Missoula, Ravalli, Silver Bow) received failing grades in this category. Missoula had less harmful days in this report but still received a failing grade. Unhealthy and hazardous air quality days are largely due to severe wildfires and wood smoke.

Lincoln County ranked 14th for annual particles and has failed to meet the standard for the last four reports.

The report found that nationwide, nearly 9 million more people were impacted by deadly particle pollution than reported last year. It also showed more days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the two-decade history of this report. Overall, more than 137 million Americans live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air. The report found that people of color were 61 percent more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one pollutant, and 3.6 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three pollutants.

The addition of 2020 data to the 2022 “State of the Air” report gives a first look at air quality trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the shutdowns in early 2020, there was no obvious improvement.

The American Lung Association is calling on the Biden administration to strengthen the national limits on both short-term and year-round particulate matter air pollution. Stronger standards will educate the public about air pollution levels that threaten their health and drive the cleanup of polluting sources in communities across the country.

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